July 05, 2006

Say Jansfield “Autumn Burrows”

Jay Stansfield, the man on whose name his new trio Say Jansfield is awkwardly based, is better known in some circles as the lead singer/guitarist of the dearly departed band tRANSELEMENt, one of the most unjustifiably overlooked British bands of the last 15 years. The band's music balanced the gratuitous dissonance and stylistic inconsistency of American indie-rock with the kind of surreal humor and irrepressible melodic smarts that could only come from a British band. After a single, two Peel Sessions and four albums, the band broke up in 2004, right when they were starting to get noticed outside of their hometown of Lancashire. In the interest of full disclosure, I must add that Jay has been a pen pal of mine for the last decade. Because of such, I have copies of almost every home recording that tRANSELEMENt made during their lifespan, many of which equal or exceed their professionally released recordings in quality, if not fidelity. Although their breakup saddened me, Say Jansfield's debut album Autumn Burrows serves as an excellent consolation prize.

If tRANSELEMENt were the Beatles, then Autumn Burrows could be seen as Jay's own McCartney. The majority of the singing and instruments are handled by Jay, with assistance from his wife Maria on vocals and his friend Rob on drums. The songs are devoid of the distorted guitars that marked his former band's work, opting instead for a “folk-tronica” sound that pits acoustic instrumentation against light, tinkling drum programming. Last but not least, the lyrics are marked by a simplicity and optimism that didn't come through often in tRANSELEMENt's music. The sentiments may be corny, but the sincerity in Jay's voice and the skill with which the music is executed make them stick. Like Paul McCartney's best work, the songs on Autumn Burrows are powered by goodwill.

On opener “That's Life!,” Jay comforts a bereaved friend with a resigned chorus about the inevitability of death: “Don't try to understand why we die/Everyone goes sometimes/People come and people go/That's life, don't you know?” “Repetitive Strain Industry” is an anthem for everyone who is stuck in a tedious clerical job like me. “There's no freedom inside a computer,” he sings. “Turn it off, and do something you really want!” On “A Sad Past,” Jay and his wife take turns singing about the futility of guilt and regret: “If your past is filled with sadness/But your days are filled with love/Then just hold the ones around you/And forget about what's gone.” Autumn Burrows isn't all sunshine and rainbows. On “Gon, Gon, Gon,” Jay tells a tale of a drunk who kills another man on the subway with an axe. The lyrics of “The Lonely Piano” personify a piano that no one wants to play anymore, but you probably could've guessed that from the title. The sad songs are few and far between, though, as if Jay felt obligated to make brief nods to the darker side of life in order to keep listeners from entering a sugar coma.

Of course, Autumn Burrows isn't a complete break away from the tRANSELEMENt sound. Jay's elfin tenor, which frequently leaps into a soaring falsetto at any moment, is the most obvious sonic link to his previous band's work. He's still got a keen ear for melody, and he isn't afraid to go on odd sonic detours: check the spaghetti-western climax of “Sugar Brown” and the white noise coda of “We're in the Countryside” for examples. However, whereas listening to tRANSELEMENt was like cruising around town with your craziest friend in search for trouble and adventure, listening to Autumn Burrows is like going to your most mild-mannered friend's house for a pick-me-up and some good advice. It's chicken soup for the indie soul --- and in crazy times like these, it's exactly what many of us need to hear.

Artist Website: www.sayjansfield.co.uk
Label Website: www.creepingbent.org

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