Jake Sheppard “Midwest Marlin”

Desserted City Records, 2024

A new original from the other side of Los Angeles.

Jake Sheppard Midwest Marlin cover artHere’s the funny thing about people; they often say they crave something different, but in reality, they want something that is actually a marginally changed version of stuff they already like. Which places the likes of Jake Sheppard in a potentially awkward spot, because if there is one thing that is a defining trope of his debut album, it is originality – and plenty of it. A few listens, though, and one feels like being in an awkward space may well be somewhere he feels quite comfortable. 

So, a little background. Sheppard is based out of Los Angeles, and his work is described as “an off-kilter blend of country-rock and freak folk”, with such influences as Randy Newman and Devendra Banhart. A couple of other names might be added to that list – the fearless fruitcake pop of Weird Al Jankowicz, and going back a bit further, the arch-satirist Tom Lehrer. 

Opener “The ‘a Million Times’ Conversation” immediately sets the stall (not least by its title)- the first sounds we hear are a distant, bemused male voice complaining “Hey, what the f***?” The chords kick in, resolutely lo-fi, and then Sheppard’s voice, fighting a lone war against the positivity of some meme-driven well-wisher. “You could go outside, it’s easy, so easy”, they intone, to which he responds ”if I stay inside… I’ll probably be just fine – I could be better than you – are you scared it’s true?” 

A few tracks have the feel of some odd musical theatre for the modern age – ‘Ballad of a Confident Man’ has the distinctly unsettling presence of a submarine operative, inviting some poor sap to lay out their money for a trip to view the wreck of the Titanic, ignoring safety risks in pursuit of your buck, and intoning the relentless, overwhelming mantra: “Trust me I know/ it’s under control”, the repetition betraying a warning that it is anything but. 

Similar in tone (though if anything the humour gets darker still), is “Hold Music (For a Film)”, where a firm of lawyers advertise their services. “You staged a coup in Belize, And your assistants a tease, Be assured we understand / Are kids going blind from a product you designed – Don’t worry, we’ve got a plan”. Hmm. These are lofty targets, and not the usual musical fare. Shades of Kurt Weill? You betcha.

Sheppard uses a range of tones to his palette, including sound effects and discordant moments; but he can be quite emotionally vulnerable too, most notably on the painfully fragile ‘Ian’, with a suitably affecting musical backdrop. 

His default, though, is definitely cocking an arched eyebrow at the madness of the modern world, and the shysters who inhabit it. He has a fine line in self-deprecation, too, although most of the narrators of his songs are so unreliable, it’s sometimes hard to tell. 

So, welcome to a lop-sided, off-kilter talent, who is not afraid to cast wonder at the madness of the world around him. Already, it might be clear that Sheppard is unlikely to be the next pop sensation or stadium act. However, it is equally clear that he is likely to carve a devoted listenership, among those for whom a dose of wry sarcastic humour, combined with fatalistic commentaries and cinematic vignettes, offers both a window and a mirror to an untrustworthy world. 


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Hell yes! Hold Music (for a film) is incredible!