Former glam rock guitarist and current indie folk-rocker Aaron Lee Tasjan is something of a musical chameleon. After moving to Nashville, putting out three well-received solo albums and suffering at least one period of creative block brought on by severe self-doubt, the Nashville resident has released his fourth album, self-reflective and creatively adventurous even by his own standards.
Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan! (★★★★☆) still possesses some of the folky rawness of his previous work but also finds the artist playing with a more dynamic sound reminiscent of vintage pop rock without quite sounding like a carbon copy. Tasjan’s sound is laid-back without being lazy, and rich but never maximalist, with smooth vocals often evocative of Elliott Smith layered over guitars and synth-sounds, many of which are actually cleverly manipulated guitars. Not quite willing to leave folk-rock behind, acoustic guitars and little country-lite embellishments, like echoing whistles, bring a depth to the album’s otherwise bright retro sound.
Much as its title functions as a personal rallying cry, this album has Tasjan holding up a mirror to his own sense of self and artistic sensibilities. Equal parts irreverent and incisively self-reflective, his songwriting regularly takes aim at his own quirks and shortcomings. The album’s opener, “Sunday Women,” is a self-pitying yet self-aware daydream for a nonexistent dream girl, a sentiment he revisits on “Dada Bois,” a wholesomely lovestruck Beach Boys-esque number with a queer twist.
One of the album’s showstoppers, “Up All Night,” distills many of the qualities that make Tasjan! so interesting. Described as “half party anthem, half cautionary tale,” it finds Tasjan in an upbeat but frank real-time dissection of some questionable choices. This is also the first song to deal directly with Tasjan’s bisexuality, delivered frankly in the lyric, “Broke up with my boyfriend/to go out with my girlfriend/cause love is like that.”
After the bombast of “Up All Night,” Tasjan gets even more autobiographical with “Feminine Walk,” an even more up-front and thorough reckoning with the fluidity of his life. Tasjan recounts episodes from his life in between boasting about his “legs for days,” likening himself to “a metropolitan Conway Twitty,” and listing off influences as diverse as Bowie, Jagger, “Grace Jones, Joan Jett, and To Wong Foo.“
Tasjan is at his most interesting when reflecting on his inner life and personal history. His songwriting is consistently sharp, but loses some of its punch on tracks like “Cartoon Music,” a lightly scathing yet laid-back track that features the fun lyric “Cartoon music for plastic people” and a satisfying slow burn of a build towards the end. Without a clear target, though, the song meanders and, as a result, is less interesting than those with a more self-deprecating bent to them.
Tasjan! would have a listener believe its creator was one of the most interesting artists active today, and it’s hard not to buy into that vision. Self-absorbed in all the right ways, the irreverent, inward-looking approach Aaron Lee Tasjan has taken gives us an album as complex and compelling as its creator.
Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan! will be released on Feb. 5th by New West Records and will be available on most streaming services. Visit www.aaronleetasjan.com.
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