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The Lonesome Organist - Form and Follies

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Artist: The Lonesome Organist

Album: Form and Follies

Label: Thrill Jockey

Review date: Sep. 19, 2003


Although most record reviews benefit from creating a firm context for an artistís work, thereís little in conventional music that prepares one for The Lonesome Organist, a.k.a. Jeremy Jacobsen. A genuine oddity in the Chicago music scene, for those who donít know, the Organist is a talented multi-instrumentalist who one-ups Prince by playing everything at once, one man band-style. For those who have experienced this in person, the sight of Jacobsen playing drums, guitar, and piano while simultaneously singing is apparently quite a sight to behold. And while itís unquestionably a good thing to have a musician tapping into long-forgotten styles of music and performance, the question remains: is it any good?

While it would undoubtedly improve the experience of Form and Follies to see Jacobsen performing (the tracks were recorded almost entirely live), thereís still a load of strange instrumentation and engagingly strange performance. Although the Vaudeville reference is an obvious and well-worn comparison, itís apt, as Jacobsen sounds like a manic stage performer, eagerly picking up a handful of random instruments, improvising tunes to keep the restless crowd happy. When the scheme works, on tracks such as ďOnly If I Get YouĒ, the result is like a delirious time-warp to a Times Square music hall, sad and lonely, slightly frightening, an aging singer whoís past his prime and knows it. The sentiment isnít genuine, but it isnít delivered ironically, either. Itís more akin to someone trying desperately to recreate real emotion, and failing.

There are also loose, faux-jazz instrumentals, made with everything from carnival organs to toy pianos and accordion. Nostalgic and disjointed, they resemble a robot trying to experience someone elseís memory of music, or an old 78 heard through a heavy sedative fog. All the elements are in place, but they connect in unexpected, misdirected ways. Jacobsenís is a strange muse, and itís difficult to decipher what heís trying to communicate, or what weíre meant to feel. The music here isnít weird enough to be truly ďout thereĒ, but itís far too misguided to be emotionally involving. Thereís certainly humor, and if Jacobsenís intentions are somewhat murky, his ability to repeatedly engage the listener is strangely consistent. For lovers of Tom Waitsí mid-period, deconstructionist phase, there is much here that compares favorably. Much of the album is spent in a Waits-style swoony, faux-show tune atmosphere, a drunken entanglement of musical eras and styles. Thereís even an SST-style punk dirge, ďWhoís To Say Your Soulís Not Carbon?Ē, full of guitar squalls and pounding drums.

Thereís nothing remotely cohesive on Form and Follies, but this is often to its benefit; an entire album of any one style would be an interminable. Ultimately, the potential enjoyment of the music depends on your ability to absorb well-made ephemera. Hardly anything here constitutes a full song, in the classic sense, yet the record exerts an odd pull, a fascination. Ultimately, the recordís allure has less to do with the gimmickry of Jacobsenís performance than his ear for oddness and unrelenting energy.

By Jason Dungan

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