To study Joel Gion is to study the mystery and history of rock and roll itself. Rock and roll itself is an element indefinable at its core, no matter how deeply one investigates either the mystery or the history – in fact, it’s likely to gain less definition the further one delves.
Joel Gion himself is an element indefinable at his core, no matter how deeply one investigates either his mystery or his history (be it time spent with The Brian Jonestown Massacre, the celluloid anti-hero working out some kinks in the documentary “Dig!” or simply his repeat rankings in the ongoing competition for “Coolest Motherfucker on Earth”) – in fact, he’s likely to gain less definition the further one delves.
With regard to his lush new eponymous album on Beyond Beyond Is Beyond Records, we should all be so lucky to suffer from such a lack of definition. If we take “definition” here to mean a rigid adherence to expectation and narrowness in scope, the album is almost void of definition completely. In its place, we find instantly invigorating hooks, we find an unhurried pace matched with an unworried tone, we find a captivating collection of California calm mixed with self-command, with General Gion standing at the helm of an army of talented musicians, flutes and reverb pedals at the ready.
The word “symphonic” is perhaps too staid a word to describe the album’s almost meditatively meticulous charm, although it makes sense in the context of Brian Wilson’s oft-quoted remark about aiming to create a “teenage symphony to God.” Gion’s no teenager, however (look no further than the album’s “The Nihilist” for the warning), and his music suffers not a moment for its distinct lack of adolescence. Rather, Gion manages to stretch out the sweetness in Wilson’s statement like some sort of sonic saltwater taffy – and there’s plenty to share.
There’s the slow-burn splendor of the album’s opener, “Zig Zag,” as pleasing a smile-generator as anything every tightly rolled in its namesake. There’s album-highlight “Partner,” as certain an alternate-universe psychedelic-salsa hit-single as your ears have ever heard, with the instrumentation creating a crisp and clean holiday hammock for Gion to lay down an almost whispered baritone (Gion’s voice shows a perhaps unexpected flexibility throughout the songs, bordering on chameleon-esque). There’s the transistor-radio friendly album-closer, “Mercury In Retrograde,” aligned like “Psychotic Reaction” on codeine syrup, the fuzz not necessarily frantic, but beautiful.
Unraveling the history and mystery of rock and roll is half the fun, and Joel Gion has been responsible for far more than his fair share of fun. The other half of the fun is giving yourself over to that same mystery and history, wherever it may take you, definitions be damned.
Ladies and gentlemen, Joel Gion is floating in space.