I’m falling deeper and deeper into this enchanting puzzle of an album by J Fernandez. Like an M.C. Escher painting for the ears, Many Levels of Laughter invites repeated listens that reveal different facets of sound and structure each time. After a good week of digging into it, I feel less and less certain I know ‘what this album sounds like,’ even if the broad musical coordinates seem clear enough. I hear the mellifluous drone of an old organ that Stereolab and Broadcast might employ; the tender, post-rock pace of Gastr del Sol and Tortoise; the unlikely tonic of a plaintive melody that Robert Wyatt and pre-fame Scritti Politti enjoyed unfolding; the twangy guitar reverb that Guided By Voices or Clinic would use to navigate their psychedelic flights; the strategically oblique digressions that Brian Eno might unsettle a composition with.
As lead track “Between the Channels” illustrates, these elements cohere into a surprisingly organic whole, all to the end of best serving J Fernandez’s recordings. This Chicago-via-Arkansas songwriter doesn’t seem particularly interested in impressing listeners with his impeccable influences, which, let’s face it, really aren’t all that rare in this age of the streaming global jukebox. With his sense of purpose and lack of self-aggrandizement, J Fernandez makes it easy to lend your ears to this modestly dazzling album. Give it a try — stream all nine tracks on his Bandcamp page.
A sociology professor living in upstate New York, Leonard Nevarez is patiently waiting until his kids are old enough for a family roadtrip to Maryland Deathfest. He blogs at musicalurbanism.org and is writing a book about Martha & the Muffins and the late 70s/early 80s downtown Toronto music scene.