I tried entering Winterreise completely unbiased, and then someone put a quote from Iggy Pop in the media pack saying “Jerskin Fendrix should have tea with Jarvis Cocker”? This stuck out to me right away, a quote from Iggy fucking Pop. I almost went into this album expecting something for THAT magnitude of a quote.
Opening track. Manhattan’s intro is inviting right up until the clipping piano starts to wail on your eardrums, and that is a good thing. The foreboding synths that follow dig into your subconscious before the auto-tuned vocals have a chance to convince you; electronic? 100 Gecs level meme pop? I’m going to stay unbiased.
Allow me a minute to drop a beat on meme timeline artists here, because the phrase “South London’s answer to 100 Gecs” was as cliched already by the time it left my frontal lobe. Onigiri immediately invokes Gecs, but not in the sporadic, horrifically uncool way that they would explore a song. It’s still pop music puke, leading me to Lou Smith’s live video of the act here:
I love Smith, a window into that scene. Look, the live performance is solid. While Gecs lives entirely in the circle labelled “meme garbage”, there can be something to pull from Jerskin Fendrix that keeps enough form to be listenable without dropping the free form poetry down the drain with the rest of the “pop music puke”. He stays in focus and doesn’t let his production floor clippings take over his music. Oh, and while we’re here, Gecs is meme garbage.
I get what Iggy was saying; Jerskin is just carrying on the legacy of Lou Reed in a way that the music isn’t tied to the lyrics like a fishing line to a hook; instead, it has a light blanket wrapped around them. The live act doesn’t take time to talk dumb jokes or drop Instagram handles; it just goes ahead into the void and hopes you come with.
Which is where we come in on Black Hair. Particularly bare-bones, ALMOST rapping. If you can bear the abrasive mood swing beat flares with, Iggy Pop’s best friend, clipping the song. If you can’t, then get the hell out of the way. It can feel fake without the context. And now I find myself biased. Biased! He plays the Windmill and gets videos done by Lou Smith, does Christmas collabs with Black Country, New Road. He should have kept the line “Wake up in the morning feeling like Isaac Wood” on the album version, don’t think that slipped past me on the Windmill video. You can’t even argue that this track is word vomit because of how meticulous he is with every syllable. No song structure? Who cares! If you stick around for the outro of Black Hair, you get rewarded with a surprising 2016 esque gospel outro that palate cleanses for the drop into Swamp.
Maybe I’m getting older, and I don’t get some of this. Here I was, thinking I had my fingers on the pulse of upcoming genre-benders like Black Midi. If Jerskin Fendrix actually reads this then forgive me for one second. At twenty-five, I can firmly say I don’t understand what Gecs is doing. They make garbage into music, not even music, the “kids” calling it “art” not music. Yes, I’m going to take a second to talk about Gecs cause if Jerskin Fendrix hits the big swing with this album, he’s going to be lumped in with them immediately, and I don’t think he deserves it.
I think I get Gecs; it’s an echo effect of pop music being shoved down our throats for the last twenty years. Pop and rap were married in the mid-two-thousands, and you can’t listen to one without getting a flavour of the other. What resulted in this half-assed record label gunshot wedding was pop vocalists enlisting high rising talent in rappers to punch out the third verse in radio singles and vice versa. It bangs for fifteen years, non-stop radio hits that get the hardcore rap fans and pop stans alike. What results in a repeated brain smash of the same built song with different hooks every single summer, every banger including the latest up-and-coming rap talent who banks the cash from the single into their next album and the pop star gets to reach a wider audience. Que Anakin Skywalker “I don’t think the system works”. I see a worm below my computer desk along the corner of the wall and the carpet. This stay at home order is getting to me. I keep ordering pizza, and the boxes have got to be affecting how the sanitation worker views my flat. “Pizza again?” Yes, Pizza Hut is doing those pizza stick boxes for twelve dollars, and it’s two feet of pizza. Two feet! It’s printed right on the box! The worm snuck away. I’m looking in between the desk and the wall, and I can’t find it.
How does underground care for this? Tons of remixes already mixed to fit rap verses, the brain can’t handle this much pop music overload, and now one-hit wonders are building albums for the streaming age. Every song hits the same vein; verse, chorus, verse, chorus, rap, verse, closing chorus. Huge synths dominate. Electronic music cults explode because FLAC trading has erupted and you can make pop music mixes that are non-stop roller coasters. So what is Gecs place? And what is Jerskin’s home?
At the graveyard. We’ve worn ourselves (well, some of us have) thin of the pop music formula being fed to us for two decades, Jerskin takes the idea, the theme of pop music, and bends it to his song. Gecs shoves it in the sink disposal and flips the switch. All you need as proof is I’ll Clean Your Sheets. An excellent eye of the storm track that lets Jerskin stretch out across beautiful strings in a way that’d make most stars these days groan with yearning. This is the most Scott Walker that Jerskin gets. Hell, there is even a splash of Alex Ebert on this; a shining star of a song that won’t get as much love as it should. Thoroughly impressed my bones. Track of the album for me.
Love songs really adore the pop form. It’s easy; you write a major chord, a hook and anything that goes in between can be fluff. The new love track succeeds in simplicity, too complex in the lyrical structure, and it feels cheesy. The strings/whatever the hell that is in the middle of I’ll Wait For It had me fucked up; Jerskin knows exactly where he’s going. The modern love song in I’ll Wait for It has all the fixings and none of the straight jacket suffocation of the contemporary pop form. It just is.
One thing to notice about Winterreise is Jerksin’s addiction to reusing pop music lines and warping them. “Wake up in the morning feeling like” from Kesha is the first to jump out at me, followed by Swamp’s “No one man should have all that power” from Kanye. Collect some bonus points by pointing out which tracks have pop hooks on them that repeat throughout. It’s more of what I meant; these pieces of pop music that lodge themselves in our brain like shrapnel and can’t be ripped out without untangling a full-blown earworm crawling all over our cerebellum. Jesus, these things are everywhere! Lean too far into one side of the song and Jerskin might lose you to a more well-known track (Man, I’ve got to listen to Power today, that song is dank). Not to say this is a bad thing; the avid listener will pick up on these “poached” lines and think it’s a dope easter egg. The avid lawyer might get thirsty to see his client’s lines being used by a twenty-something South London kid and poach himself (or herself, it’s 2020) a juicy copyright claim. I’d suggest Jerskin look out, but I’m sure he doesn’t care. That’s what makes the line poaching so good; Led Zepplin getting sued every four years over Stairway means nothing to this Jerskin Fendrix kid. It’s refreshing. I told myself I wasn’t going to be biased. He even admits in some of the songs that he steals! “I stole a line from Nick Cave” on Oh God. This guy’s a public menace! No wonder they like him at the Windmill, the bar must be a rogue’s gallery of local talent looking for the next piece of media to sacrifice on stage ritualistically.
Is it an “at home producer” thing to have so much space in between songs? A lot more modern takes on electronic pop music use the blank space between tracks to their advantage like negative space on a painting. Jerskin’s voice is impeccable on these second half-songs. Really drives home the ballads, if you could call them that.
There is no surprise that Jerskin has a fan base with songs like this. He wields the pop sword backwards, and you could easily see Katy Perry using the full samples of these tracks. He is soaked in pop culture references, ninety pounds soaking wet. This kind of music works for the listener he likely has, a brain rewired by advertising. More worms! Not just the music ones, but the Instagram ones, the Twitter ones, the dating system he describes are already lost to them (he straight up mentions cuckolding on Oh God). When did this get in here? Jerskin Fendrix pulls back the scabs, and it’s infested! The anxiety of the system really pokes out on the more abrasive songs, balanced by the lighter tracks where Jerskin gets to explore his vocal range (in the very soothing low register). More worms! Do you have worms? Find them on Winterreise.