The Syd Barrett-obsessed North Carolina-based singer/songwriter Jackson Scott launched himself onto the indie music blogosphere earlier this year with the infinitely catchy That Awful Sound, a lo-fi, ’90s-inspired pop ditty. “Reality is killing me,” sang Scott on the track; perhaps that reality was the fact that he thought himself born in the wrong era. Now, Scott has released Melbourne, his debut full-length album. And while you have to give him credit for capturing the essence of the past faithfully, almost nothing on the mostly unoriginal and unremarkable Melbourne lives up to the initial promise of the undeniable That Awful Sound.
There are certainly standout tracks on Melbourne. Together Forever, a fitting name for the longest track on the album but which is still less than four minutes in length, features distorted, noisy, swirling guitar, not too far removed from Deerhunter’s latest effort, the scuzzy Monomania. In addition, the psychedelic swells of Never Ever, combined with the track’s drums, offer a sort of noisy Pink Floyd sound mixed with that of mid-’60s experimental-era Beatles.
But besides That Awful Sound, the main highlight is Sandy, a Bradford Cox-esque, shimmery pop track, save for the fact that Scott’s voice is wispier, quieter, and a few notches higher than Cox’s. Again, there’s nothing particularly original about Sandy, but Scott impressively blends the Sixties, his other favorite musical era, with, well, whatever era Atlas Sound or an act that pays equal tribute to a bygone era of psychedelia encapsulates. But what’s most impressive about Sandy is that it’s a deceptively dark song, as it’s named after Sandy Hook Elementary School, the site of one of the worst massacres in American history. When you decipher the lyrics behind the fuzz and hear Scott creepily sing “Children lost all turn in circles,” you’re inspired for the rest of the album to look for meaning beyond the traditional pop sound.
Unfortunately, the rest of the album doesn’t offer much deeper meaning, and the music isn’t enough to salvage the lack of meaning. On Evie, Scott comes across like an even more insecure Rivers Cuomo, his mumbling voice low in the mix behind standard acoustic and electric guitar. Lyrically, the song is no better as Scott offers nonsensical phrases like “The stars are finally kind of funny”, but without the panache and tonal variation that makes someone like Cox so intriguing and convincing. Meanwhile, the pitch-shifted vocals on Any Way come across as annoying as the kid on the plane who won’t stop crying. Ultimately, the track sounds like an outtake that overstays its welcome at only two minutes long. But the most frustrating track on the album is Tomorrow, which starts out promisingly with repeated strumming and Scott’s urgent singing: an introduction that makes you think it’s going to explode into something more. Unfortunately, Tomorrow never goes anywhere, as Scott adds nothing except volume and wind-like effects before the track is suddenly cut off.
Much has been made about how Scott, although musically bearing a striking resemblance to Cox, Jeff Mangum, and Built To Spill, was actually more of a Barrett and Weezer fan growing up. But independent of what he says of his musical influences, the music here overall comes across as too derivative of today’s psychedelic and the ’90s’ Elephant 6 bands. Perhaps this is where Scott fails on Melbourne: for a guy who nails the ’60s and ’90s indie pop sound so well, he didn’t do quite enough research; at least not enough to make an individual statement that’s unique and captivating for the rest of us.