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JP Incorporated - An Album of Distinction

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Artist: JP Incorporated

Album: An Album of Distinction

Label: Comedy Central

Review date: Oct. 23, 2009

Any moderately intelligent person understands that commercials are ridiculous, but rarely is it as clear just how ridiculous they are as when we watch commercials in a foreign language. Then the actors are just empty clothes and shiny teeth, and the devices that commercials use to convince us to buy a product aren’t convincing, because we don’t understand them. Instead, we see them simply as devices.

JP Inc.’s music likewise holds a mirror up to the shiny-tooth set, ridiculing hucksters and empty-headed TV hosts. You may notice that An Album of Distinction is released on Comedy Central Records, but anyone expecting Dane Cook will be sorely disappointed. On paper, the “jokes" here usually aren’t worth more than a chuckle—this really isn’t ha-ha stuff. But it’s no accident that JP Inc. frequently tours with comedian Neil Hamburger (who also contributes guest vocals to An Album of Distinction under his real name, Gregg Turkington). Hamburger’s basic shtick is jokes that aren’t funny until you’re willing to read them as jokes about how stupid most comedy is. JP Inc. does about the same thing, but with late-night TV.

JP Inc. is J.P. Hasson, who formerly fronted the duo Pleaseeasaur, prancing around the stage in a series of absurd costumes while Thomas Hurley III spent the band’s sets backstage, displaying visuals on a pair of overhead projectors. When Hurley left the band, Hasson continued Pleaseeasaur by himself before changing the project’s name.

There are two different monikers, but they blend effortlessly into one another. An Album of Distinction includes “LA Nights 2... Even Hotter,” which was a Pleaseeasaur live staple. And the album features pretty much the same blend of ridiculous/brilliant infomercial soundtracks, karaoke instrumentals and ‘80s TV themes as Pleaseeasaur’s last album, The Amazing Adventures of Pleaseeasaur.

The beauty of what Hasson does is that it could be completely absurd and apropos of nothing, or it could be a scathing cultural critique. It’s hard to tell which. It’s easy to enjoy it on the former level, particularly in the case of something like An Album of Distinction‘s “Crap Factory,” a promo for a fake Dream Theater-esque hard rock band, in which we learn that the only things that drummer Brad Chad “pounds harder than his kit are drinks... [in monster-truck commercial voice] and chicks.”

Just before that, though, we’re told that ”Crap Factory are ready to unload a sick shot of [in monster-truck voice] rock onto the currently stale and predictable popular music scene. Their music has that contemporary edge and unpredictability that today’s rock-starved youth is crying out for.”

There’s no obvious joke here. But the trope of some stupid rock band standing out against the “stale and predictable popular music scene” is absurd in its own right, as is the idea that this band has a “contemporary edge,” whatever the hell that is.

The point is that television and radio are so saturated with bullshit that sometimes you barely even need to tweak them to satirize them. Jerry Seinfeld might take several minutes to explain why the phrase “contemporary edge” is funny, but to Hasson its absurdity is so obvious that it doesn’t even need to be pointed out.

Instead, Hasson’s usual trick is to take the sickening anti-charisma of your typical porn producer or Vegas headliner and ratchet it up several levels. He performed part of Pleaseeasaur’s set in a tuxedo costume, and it’s not hard to imagine him as the host of a low-rent beauty pageant. An Album of Distinction begins with “Welcome to JP Inc.,” a hilariously vapid introduction that takes nearly two minutes (the album itself is barely a half hour) to explain... well, nothing that wouldn’t be clear from listening to the rest of the record, although this doesn’t stop Hasson from delivering his monologue with immaculately fake enthusiasm.

The songs on An Album of Distinction are mostly themes for fictitious television programs and commercials. Here’s where it becomes difficult to tell whether Hasson’s act is some sort of commentary on the nature of commercialism and bullshit, though: as ridiculous television theme songs go, his are really, really good. Way too daffy and obnoxious to actually air, certainly, but so well versed in the peculiar language of cheesy TV music that they’re impossible to dismiss as mere commentaries or jokes. There’s love here, in other words.

There’s also the fact that if Hasson’s music is supposed to be commentary of some kind, most of its apparent targets are either hopelessly small-time (3 AM infomercials, badly produced local TV ads) or hopelessly out of date. Hasson seems to have a weird fascination with ’80s TV in particular, which is interesting, since most contemporary TV is too self-aware to be so easily parodied. As Matt Taibbi recently pointed out in his book The Great Derangement, the series of Joe Isuzu ads in the late ‘80s, featuring David Leisure playing a pitchman lying absurdly about the product he was attempting to sell, set the stage for a generation of television that came with layers of self-mockery already built in. Contrast most ‘80s TV ads with, say, the ubiquitous Geico caveman ads, which themselves mock the ubiquity of an un-ironic, vapid and very JP Inc.-style fake ad campaign about how easy it is to use Geico.

Of course, TV today may be more sophisticated than it was 20 years ago, but its goals are often the same—to forge a bond with the viewer, for example, or to make the viewer want to product she ordinarily would not. Today’s TV is, if anything, more insidious in its pursuit of these goals, because its crassness is less obvious. Maybe that’s part of Hasson’s point.

Anyway, this particular bunch of songs is even more jerry-rigged for maximum stuck-in-your-head annoyance than The Amazing Adventures of Pleaseeasaur was, and that’s saying something. Most of the songs on Amazing Adventures seemed to accumulate humor by repeating the same disjointed catchphrases over and over or by trying one absurd slogan after another, but An Album of Distinction mostly goes straight for the jugular with songs that are much catchier and tightly-constructed than their subject matter would seem to deserve.

Whether or not JP Inc.’s act is supposed to be some sort of satire, it’s certainly the product of a culture that’s seriously sick. The most confusing, and ultimately most interesting, aspect of Hasson’s music is that it doesn’t tell you whether it is concerned about that sickness or instead is basking in its glory. An Album of Distinction and its excellent accompanying live show might seem like silly, lighthearted fun, but they’re more complex than they seem.

By Charlie Wilmoth

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