A superb debut album – richly melodic songs from Brooklyn that take in country, ’70s AM radio rock, folk, and Neil Young and Paul Simon doing psych-pop.
For the past 10 years, Jesse Adelman, the former frontman of New York band The Telephones, has been working as a songwriter and a producer for other artists, but now he’s decided to go it alone and release his debut solo album. The first question that springs to mind is, ‘why the hell has it taken him so long?’
‘Strangers’ is an astonishing record that’s full of seriously great songs with gorgeous melodies, lush arrangements and wry lyrics. Opener, ‘Big Spaceship’, is beautiful and intimate – an acoustic guitar and piano ballad, with a touch of harmonica, whistling and added, er, spacey flourishes. It’s an interstellar ode to getting f***ed-up: “Let’s go out and get wasted, aboard the big spaceship, until either of us makes it – we just can’t face going home…”
The loping ‘Hard of Feeling’ could be the Velvet Underground doing alt-country, and ‘Sweet Release’ is irresistible, sun-dappled psych-pop, with a touch of vintage Neil Young.
‘Is This Real’ has a ‘70s AM radio rock vibe – it’s haunting and atmospheric, with an electric piano groove and some wonderful slide guitar, while ‘Me and Josine’ is a playful, woozy country rock tune about a relationship: “Me and Josine – we’re tight like a tourniquet. She likes to fight. I like to get over it.” Adelman describes the album as: “Ten deeply personal songs about alienation , desperation, addiction and loss.”
All of the songs were written, performed, engineered, arranged and produced by Adelman – he plays and records every instrument with one microphone in a small Brooklyn room. However, it doesn’t sound like a bedroom folk record – it has rich instrumentation and plenty of textures.
The credits show that as well as singing lead and backing vocals, Adelman plays electric and acoustic guitars, bass, piano, Wurlitzer, organ, synths, percussion, music box, vibraphone and harmonica.
Drums are courtesy of Ezra Oklan (Nicole Atkins, Ambulance LTD) and Michael Reed (Secret Sidewalk). Mixing duties were taken care of by Jeff Zeigler (The War On Drugs, Kurt Vile, Steve Gunn), who gives the record plenty of depth sonically – it has a bright, immersive quality.
As a singer-songwriter, Adelman is easily up there with Vile, Ryan Adams, Neil Young, Mark Linkous and Paul Simon. On ‘Indians’, which is soaked in warm, Southern Soul organ, he recalls Simon in his vocal style and delivery, but sings about having a “freezer full of acid.”
‘Even If’ is trippy and cosmic Easy Listening – it conjures up images of a ‘70s heat haze, and Adelman sounds like Simon would do if he’d partaken in some of the contents of that freezer…
If this writer had heard ‘Strangers’ in 2021 – it came out at the end of December and was lost in the Christmas chaos – rather than in early 2022, it would’ve been one of the albums of the year. Stunning.