There’s this certain temptation I run into from time to time, and that’s to focus on music that only seems “groundbreaking” or “revolutionary,” that seems to be pushing envelopes and breaking boundaries. Or to focus on music that’s as left-field as possible and most definitely not — God forbid — pop music (as if a CD’s worth is directly proportional to its accessibility, or lack thereof). It’s not as bad as it once was — several years ago I would’ve avoided pop music like the plague — but it still rears it’s ugly head from time to time.
Which brings me to Jonathan Inc.‘s fifth release, Things Done and Left Undone. To be quite frank, there’s nothing particularly new or innovative about the album in the slightest. Jonathan Inc. plays the sort of lush, atmospheric, and emotive indie-pop that could sit comfortably on the shelf next to Ester Drang, Death Cab for Cutie, or Damien Rice. It’s nothing you haven’t heard before, and yet Jonathan Inc. infuses their music with such warmth and detail that it sounds new and fresh all over again.
The reasons for this are several-fold. First, there are the vocals of frontman Jonathan Anderson, whose voice has the same sort of unassuming appeal as David Bazan (Pedro The Lion), and is often joined by warm female vocals. While Bazan’s lyrics serve as pointed examinations of religious legalism, corporate greed, and self-righteousness, Anderson’s songs are of a more melancholy bent, often reading like letters and diary entries concerning old loves, childhood nostalgia, and romantic regrets. I would hesitate to call it “confessional,” but there is certainly an air of introspection about it all.
Second, there are the songs themselves. The band excels at layering and arranging, be it the heart-wrenching violin on “Cat Burglar,” the haunting piano and lap steel that drift, ghost-like, through “There Is No Sound,” the effortless Rhodes-and-violin combo on “Relentless,” or the lush synths that seem to fill nearly every song. And while I wouldn’t necessarily consider any of the songs particularly toe-tapping or punchy (there’s far too much atmosphere at work for that), the album does abound in glorious melodies and hooks that prove highly memorable (“Lights Go Down,” “Unbroken Silence,” “Bitter Seed”).
In all honesty, I’m a bit surprised as to how taken I’ve been with this disc. I’ve often found myself listening to it several times in a row, and if I’m not careful, it might not leave my car’s player for days at a stretch. But at the same time, I’m not that surprised. It’s an elegant, atmospheric album of melancholy, rainy day pop that’s packed with emotion and beauty, and one that easily sucks you in (while driving around earlier this week, the person with me was taken by the album within the second song). Sure, what Jonathan Inc. does may not be particularly “groundbreaking” — but then again, given today’s shallow musical climate, if emotion and beauty aren’t groundbreaking, then I don’t know what is.