I Make Noise, the album from solo artist Jayce Nall, is eight tracks of jubilant, infectious modern synth-infused alternative pop. Right off the bat, “All We Need” launches full force into a four-to-the-floor beat, 80’s synth pads, gesticulating arps, and a clean, proficient lead vocal. It draws on of New Order’s appeal and Duran Duran’s confidence while sounding like neither. There is something else at play, though, and you don’t hear until you dive further into the record.
The second song, “Magic,” is far funkier and laid back than “All We Need,” grooving to a walking bass line and offbeat guitar strums. There’s far more of a Daft Punk influence here, and yet Jayce Nall’s vocals and production style keep it within the same ballpark of the rest of the record. Rather than appearing as though he can’t decide on a sound, the impression I get is that he is competently exploring a number of different ideas.
The main synth lead on “Where I Leave” seams to pay not-so-subtle homage to M83’s “Midnight City,” whereas the rest of the song sounds like a careful examination and variation on the nerdy earnestness of The Postal Service, especially with regards to the vocal delivery.
However, the full-bodied guitar solo at two minutes-thirty nine breaks out of any comparison. It’s fairly unique, from tone to melody, and sufficient in providing this song with a distinctive soul beyond that of a clever homage. Being the most potentially “derivative” song, it is still great fun to listen to, and in some ways exceeds my enjoyment of “Midnight City.”
“Red Lights,” on the other hand, has a totally different feel than most anything in its class. The guitars aren’t overly complicated, the beat is simple enough to follow, and the song’s overall structure is fairly conventional. That being said, Nall takes full advantage of the flow he’s created and, somehow, it snuck its way to being my favorite track.
This song, more than anything, convinced me that Nall is creating smart pop music: calculated, efficient, and spotless. He can sing his own melodies; he doesn’t reach too far. As a producer, he’s covering himself from top-to-bottom with a solid mix, catchy hooks, solid arrangements, and capable performances. There are no bum notes or skipped beats, but it doesn’t sound totally machine-made, either – even on a danceable, saccharine-sweet song like “Glow.”
“Gun” made me realize that there was one other important comparison to make other than those I’ve already mentioned. Abandoned Pools, and its principle member Tommy Walker, released a criminally over-looked album in 2001 called “Humanistic.” In it, he successfully married Smashing Pumpkins-style rock with an electronic infused pop sensibility, maneuvering deftly between many styles and feelings in a way very similar to Jayce Nall’s “I Make Noise.” I believe that while Nall may never have heard of Abandoned Pools or that record, he represents an evolution of that same concept – and a worthy one, at that.
That may not sound fair to Nall’s deserved sense-of-self and unique identity, but the history of music, in my opinion, relies on progress. What pleases me about Nall’s music is that while I can pick out similarities wherever I please, I’m only able to do that because I’m enjoying what I hear and it brings back fond memories. For Nall, it’s probably most important that he is able to express himself and create the things he wants to hear. For me, it’s most important that I am able to identify with the music and understand where it falls in the pantheon of pop: is this progress, or are we slipping backward?
“A Face I’d Like To Punch” has a wonderful drive to it; you can’t help but move while you listen. Again, the mix is clean and balanced, impeccably sculpted to accommodate each element in the mix and each change in the arrangement. Melodies, harmonies, and rhythms are expertly chosen. I keep looking for missteps, but I get caught up with enjoying the song too much to find anything. Overall, the record has a fun and free-spirited aura about it, effectively neutralizing negative feelings that may be in the vicinity.
Even the standard-operating-procedure gentle closing track, “Lift My Eyes” – with its typical, folksy guitar strums and lyrical romanticism – is quite beautiful and convincing. Nall is an attentive student of the album arch, of pop music in general, of song structure, and apparently recording and mixing (you can do a lot worse with a laptop recording setup.) I wanted to complain that the mastering of the album was, overall, a little quiet… but I don’t feel that way on the second listen.
Frankly, I’m a bit jealous. I can see what Nall is doing, how he’s doing it, and why – but he actually did it and he didn’t screw it up. He made a fun, danceable record with heart and brains using minimal gear and maximal grasp of modern pop music convention. I can’t wait to hear what he does next.