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Jason Morphew - The Duke of Arkansas

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Artist: Jason Morphew

Album: The Duke of Arkansas

Label: Ba Da Bing

Review date: Apr. 30, 2003

No Lo-Fi in Little Rock

Sometime during my sophomore year of college, life began to lose its appeal; friends seemed alien, television useless and music completely stale. I needed a new approach, an alternate means of identification.

Jaboni Youth. It was (and maybe still is?) a zine dedicated to lo-fi and indie rock. It introduced me to a world beyond Grunge. I was transformed immediately by the experience of discovering music that wasn’t tainted by the process of commercialization. The gritty, lo-fi naivety of Jason Morphew’s “Losing Stars Against The Moon,” a song I discovered on Childhood Friends (a Jaboni Youth compilation), was the classic under-statement I’d been searching for. Raw, unhurried and honest beyond all expectations of honesty, “Losing Stars Against The Moon” helped define a period of my life that I once feared indefinable.

Through Jaboni Youth I discovered many bands, almost too many bands and in the excitement of discovery, I lost track of Jason Morphew; that is, until a few days ago.

I wish I could say that listening to Jason Morphew’s new album, The Duke of Arkansas, is like discovering an old mix tape buried in the back of your closet, smothered in cob webs but still holding the same magical recipe that moved you to tears so many years before. But perhaps not so surprisingly, as I’ve grown more mature, so too have Morphew’s melodies and recording methods. His primitive, lo-fi warble has been overrun by an energetic, alt-country pop intensity. The overwhelming playfulness that dominated most of his early work has been trimmed and trained to adhere to his new formula – one that stresses the immediate impact of a song rather than the slow unraveling of some distorted narrative. Songs are fairly short, averaging around three and a half minutes and the choruses are pure sing-a-long. “Psychedelia” offers up the sweetest bit of saccharine pysch-pop since those neo-hippies in the Elephant 6 took to courting their muses on a commune in Georgia. “Badass With A Heart of Gold” borrows from the sunny la-la-la tradition of Beulah, detailing the wayfaring journeys of colorful characters skipping across the world in search of love. Minus the dark bend of “Courting Another’s Muse” all the songs are bright and warm in the same way you always hope Spring will be. It’s a fun album, bound to suit the congenial nature of most but I can’t seem to allow its gooeyness to stick.

I shouldn’t have to cope with someone’s growth; it should be a welcomed advancement, but considering Morphew’s undeniable ability to achieve at under-achieving, his poppy swagger feels unbefitting. I have difficulty surrendering my early memories of him, his mongoloid monotone voice horribly out of place in his songs but incredibly in tune with me. If you’re not familiar with the shabby, mythical beginnings I speak of, this introvert turned extrovert might make you smile but it won’t do much more; and the much more was what I always found to be special about this man.

By John Yandrasits

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