On his third EP, Memorize Now, Chicago native J. Fernandez is still negotiating the dangers of the “bedroom pop” aesthetic. The genre has had a natural, yet unpredictable evolution as it emerged as a quick and dirty vehicle for releasing music, but is now loaded with lofty expectations. In 2014 when nearly anyone with a laptop can record music with at least a layer of gloss, sculpting music with a lo-fi quality requires far more effort. In that sense, some artists use it as a gimmick—a shorthand for homespun intimacy or low-stakes authenticity—while others embrace the method as a way to flatten musical history by placing computer modulated effects next to vintage synths and sequencers.
J. Fernandez is an example of the latter, a heady cosmonaut who’s equally enamored with the oblong structure of paisley psych and the gear that gave those songs their otherworldly quality, but this fetishism turns out to be a double edged sword. Hampered by sketchy songwriting, awkwardly paced melodies, and self-indulgence, this EP feels more like a blueprint than the execution of J. Fernandez’s high ambitions.
Despite having an aesthetic and palate resembling artists like Stereolab, Youth Lagoon and Wild Nothing, J. Fernandez’s closest relative may instead be a galaxy tripper like jazz/hip-hop phenomenon Flying Lotus. If Flying Lotus crate digs through obscure hip hop, jazz, and electronica to build his universes, J. Fernandez looks to a more elemental form of nostalgia, the ongoing war between analog and digital instrumentation.
Rather than clearly delineate these contrasting eras of instruments, J. Fernandez creates something playfully confrontational.
He overlaps squelching synths, wispy guitars, and bass in a way that inexplicably conjures both the funky dissonance of Can and the charred bedroom pop of Neon Indian.
From the opening moments of “Memorize Now,” it’s clear J. Fernandez isn’t concerned with the current vein of indie pop. After a brief guitar opening, a geometrically blocky guitar figure falls back to let a hypnotizing bass and a screeching keyboard encase the foreground of the song.
“Memorize Now” is not significant enough to make an impression on its own, but it’s a peek at the boldness of J. Fernandez’s compositions.
“Failed Scales” is an even better showcase of J. Fernandez’s understanding of melodic point and counterpoint—an eerie web of shapeshifting arpeggios on keyboards, organ, and sequencers. Fernandez interlocks each arpeggio like spider legs before a seasick looping keyboard bumbles down the middle. Playing to his interest in analog and digital sounds, avant-garde touchstone Terry Riley is the operative influence here. By the end, the synth patterns sound less like musical notes and more like malfunctioning code translated into sound, but while parts of the EP are noisy and drone-based, there is clearly an interest in off-kilter pop here.
“Cosmic Was” feels less mathematically exacting with its loosely prickly guitar sound, flowing bass, and drooping sax, but like the rest of the EP, the keyboards possess a stark rigidity and prominence that tilt the song off-kilter. Its calculated elegance lends an almost European slickness, resembling a chunkier, but no less aerodynamic version of Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot’s influential “Bonnie And Clyde.”
This verve for experimentation isn’t ultimately taken far enough though, or at least not cohesively implemented. “Close Your Eyes” erratically smashes together melodies from two different songs without ever finding a groove to link the two. Beginning with dueling arpeggios before braking into a sluggish and lumpy jazz-psych number and back again, the song falls apart with its monotone mumble and its anti-climactic build. “Geneva” is a throwaway suite, and the restless “Image” fails to find a compelling melody, although its vaguely Latin-themed backbeat initially seems promising.
J. Fernandez has a unique musical voice, and his interest in unconventional equipment is welcome in an increasingly monochromatic musical space, but this EP is still the work of an artist who’s lost in the limbo between melody and ambition. J. Fernandez has the capacity to create colorful musical worlds like a Flying Lotus for instance, but right now, he’s still having trouble finding his own home.
J. Fernandez – Memorize Now tracklist:
- “Memorize Now”
- “Failed Scales”
- “Cosmic Was”
- “Close Your Eyes”