A proverbial onion of an album, rich in its stylistic layers, leaving you guessing the trail of the young composer’s diverse influences.
Self Released, 2013
8.0 / 10
Having been recently introduced to Illinois-based Jared Bartman, I enjoyed hearing his second self-released album Misery Makes Strange Bedfellows, a proverbial onion of an album, rich in its stylistic layers, leaving you guessing the trail of the young composer’s diverse influences.
What better way to catch people’s attention from the outset of an album than a perfectly arranged piece of acapella warmed with sweet but never sickly female backing harmonies. The album opener “The Cool of Your Temple” does just that with harmonies to rival Fleet Foxes. The brief prelude contrasts well with the first full song “In Belize”, an upbeat Afro-Cuban piece of dramatic pop describing the girls that reside there. Listeners’ attention is held as “Jackals” storms in with its stomping 3/4 beat and Spaghetti Western Feel with just the faintest hint of trumpet. It’s always a pleasure to listen to music that also rewards your imagination with a strong sense of imagery to accompany.
The order of the album is perfectly plotted and the upbeat numbers are balanced effortlessly by songs with a lazier feel such as “Therese”, so laid back it almost sounds like it’s going to fall apart at any second. With a filtered and self-contained vocal, the song is supported by off-beat pizzicato strings and is built up with a sustained string section that gives the song a grand and illuminating foundation. It’s here you begin to wonder about the scope of Jared’s musical influences and appreciate the vintage yet modern melting pot.
Straight away it’s easy to understand the comparisons made to Vampire Weekend and Afro-pop pioneer Paul Simon with its lushly orchestral songs driven by vocal harmonies and world beats, and “You’ve Been Drinking Again” is no exception. Stylistically, “Granada” switches things up with its haunting, psychedelic backdrop of off-key synths and equally haunting lyrics. It’s no wonder why “Garden Gate” was selected to be the first single of Misery Makes Strange Bedfellows with its hazy melody and Afro-Cuban theme subtly continued with its gentle percussion, but more impressive is “Silver Screen”, a song that delivers all the innocent charm of the Doo-wop era. Both the harmonies and the church organ give the song a real sense of nostalgia and the intended innocence is reinforced by lyrics such as “kiss me the way that you did in my dream”.
The album ends on a similarly hazy note with “It Leaves You”, but the innocence of the penultimate track is dispelled when he tells you that “when it leaves you/ it really leaves you for good” and you know he has indeed experienced the kind of suffering that makes singing about it believable. Misery Makes Strange Bedfellows is a short yet brilliantly crafted collection of songs that manages to fuse together folk harmonies, Latin rhythms and hints of a rich blanket of styles absorbed throughout the years, from Broadway shows to old soul, the album sounds seamless whilst retaining its indie accessibility.