Album Review: Gem Jones – Admiral Frenchkiss

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Lo-fi pop doesn’t tend to be too rhythmic. The bedroom musicians who produce it tend to focus more on things like melody or atmosphere, since rhythm is probably harder to create with the limited production capabilities of a bedroom or whatever. If there’s anyone out there who’s starved for rhythm (also known as “groove” or “funk”) in the lo-fi world, don’t despair—Gem Jones can fulfill your need. The Iowa City producer’s latest release, Admiral Frenchkiss, grooves hard while still retaining a ragtag lo-fi charm.

Admiral Frenchkiss opens with “Black Lantern,” which combines jazzy brass with off-kilter synth effects. The combination sounds a little strange at first, but the track is nonetheless infectious with its energy. The same can be said for “Rock N Roll Dementia” and its soulful melodies. In both songs, the real star is the rhythm section: the drums and bass keep the melodies grooving along steadily. Things slow down a bit for the keyboard-driven “Shallow Rivers” (which, strangely enough, reminds me a bit of the “Waves” record from Nintendogs) and the laid-back “God in U.” Weirdness still creeps into these tracks, though—the meandering electronic sounds at the end of “God in U,” for example, elevates it from a straight reggae tribute to something more interesting. “Grimeshock” kicks things back into high gear with drums, bass, and synths once again powering away with a fierce rhythm. And finally, there’s “Ectomorphic Love,” a spacey ballad that sounds kind of like a love song from an alien. In fact, the whole album kind of sounds like it could’ve come from an alien, since I have no idea what Jones is singing the entire time. His voice ranges from falsettos recalling the days of classic soul to manic shouts reminiscent of Damo Suzuki. Rather than detracting from it, these vocals help to increase the weird appeal of the music.

With all the wild sounds present on Admiral Frenchkiss, it can be surprising to learn that Jones played all the instruments himself. It’s impressive that he managed to coordinate such controlled musical chaos on his own, and it’s an achievement worthy of commendation. So, you can reward Jones’ effort by buying Admiral Frenchkiss at his Bandcamp or getting it on cassette from Goaty Tapes. This is the kind of music that sounds good even when blasted out of a cheap old cassette deck—it might even sound better that way, actually.

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LeAnn Nguyen