It Don’t Mean a Thing (Or, at least that’s how it feels)
Jesse R. Berlin doesn’t take himself too seriously and he doesn’t seem to take his music seriously either. Jesse R. Berlin is a pseudonym for a Brooklyn-based artist who prefers to remain hidden behind the mystery of this confusing album, which proves itself both challenging and funny. Most of what is heard on Glitter Lung seems tongue-in-cheek, and the sense that Berlin is mocking modern DIY music is only enhanced by his humorously fabricated bio on his PR rep’s webpage. Is Jesse R. Berlin for real with this odd sonic concoction, or is he just pulling our leg for effect?
The album opens with lead single “Wash Your Boat,” a mild nod to Bowie-esque glam rock with a sloppy synthetic sound and vocals that sound like the Holy Modal Rounder’s “If You Want to be a Bird.” The rhythm and vocals feel unfinished and this lends to the sense of bedroom recording. The lyrics, if you pay close enough attention to decipher what Berlin is singing (half-whining), feel sarcastic and the whole thing begins to feel like Dadaism. With the album being titled after a fictionalized disease, the listener can begin to realize that Berlin may simply be faking it and having fun while doing it. This whole album may just be an extension of his performance art.
“How Did You Sleep Lady Kite” puts listeners in a dancing mood with a poor man’s disco groove. The sound continues to be defined by vocoder effects and drum machines, while the tonality becomes more crowded. The structure lacks appropriate variation in sectional arrangements, which makes a track begin to feel stale about 90 seconds in. “I’ve Never Really Been Prepared for you” touches on stereotyped sentimentalities from ’80s synth-pop. It feels a bit rushed, and the drum pattern never sits quite right in the mix or composition. The lyrics are forgettable and frankly hard to hear. Music technicalities aside, the sound is whimsical and fun and feel pretty refreshing as the Hawaii-style lap-slide guitar sneaks into the mix.
“Levana” is thick with bleep-bloops and a droning synth. This album will be hard for bloggers to label. The lo-fi sound wants to be called chillwave, but the constantly grating vocals make you feel anything but chill. Berlin likes to experiment with polyphony and multiple counter-melodies but his understanding of harmony is incomplete. The melodies tend to almost work rhythmically but lead to intermittent tonal clashes that don’t lend to the push and pull of the composition. This can primarily be seen in his pre-delay effects throughout the album.
“Tallulah” is by far a favorite track and it sounds the least like the rest of the album; the sound here is Berlin’s most accessible for a young adult music snob. It is singable and feels like a beach party, and it’s easy to imagine it being played live. Berlin hits a cohesive and realized atmosphere here, and listeners will wish it would stick around. Berlin’s imagination is too broad and interesting for that, however, so we enter into his other sonic worlds as the album plays on with “On the Beach” and “It Don’t Mean a thing (If You Don’t Call Me King).” Glitter Lung finishes with standout “Spiders,” which carries a remarkably risky and intriguing harmonic progression reminiscent of both MGMT and the Flaming Lips.
Part kitschy nod to funk, part ’80s glam rock with a drum machine, Berlin’s bedroom sound has an appeal many younger listeners will be attracted to. However, his complex and multi-faceted musical vision might be executed better with higher production value. The music is dense, the meaning is convoluted and the album lacks even one memorable chorus, but Berlin is highly imaginative and unusually exploratory in a cultural landscape cluttered with artists looking to pander to established markets. The technical imperfections are overpowered by the underlying humor in the project, which adds another dimension to Berlin’s purpose, and ultimately the listener’s experience. It’s a pretty challenging listen that doesn’t make a lot of sense, but there is fun to be had amidst the meaninglessness.