Jesse Younan – Swimming In Stone
Being sent albums to review puts you in a position of privilege that, typically, only rich, music-loving fatcats and geeky record executives are in; because you don’t need to worry about the cash involved in buying stacks of albums, you can check out music you normally wouldn’t. You have the luxury of taking in records that, for whatever reason, you might otherwise have ignored – or never even heard about.
Indeed, the average music lover would have a tough time scraping together the cash to buy a couple of albums each week, so most of us aren’t given the chance to investigate artists we don’t know anything about. After all, it’s only thanks to FasterLouder that I’ve heard beautiful, brilliant albums from semi-obscure artists like Rogue Wave , Black Cab, or Pretty Girls Make Graves. Were I not sent the albums to review, they’d probably remain just another example of something I’ll never hear.
Exposure to new music, for most, comes from radio, television, reviews and illegal downloading. Being sent albums means I don’t have to put all my faith in the tastes of others.
Which leads me to this album by Sydney songwriter Jesse Younan. I hadn’t heard of him, and the odds are half-decent you haven’t either. He isn’t backed by a major label, so you won’t have seen his work advertised on late night television, like Maroon 5 or Jack Johnson. Chances are that Triple J haven’t justifiably flogged his album, choosing to stick with their current playlist of by-the-numbers indie rock and tedious Australian hip-hop.
Which, all things considered, is terrible. Because this is a brilliant, near-perfect album. It’s an all-acoustic showcase of a man with impressive guitar chops, a fine ear for a chord change, and a lovely, tender voice. Above all it proves that, most importantly, Jesse Younan can write a bloody song.
He’s a complex, emotional man with a guitar, and that’s admittedly nothing new. Nick Drake, Iron & Wine, Gary Jules, M. Ward, Cat Stevens, Bright Eyes and Devendra Banhart have all been there before him, not to mention the thousands of forgotten artists who have played in the coffee shops of the world. But Younan stands proudly amongst them all, as a spectacular testament to the beauty that can be extracted from six guitar strings and some vocal cords.
Over 38 minutes, you’re treated to an evocative, dynamic set of songs that alternately lull you and thrill you. Opener Forever sounds like one of Nick Drake’s bedroom tracks, all divine finger-picking and mouth-close-to-the-microphone intimacy. It’s flushed with lyrical honesty (‘it was my heart I gave you / ain’t no easy thing for me to do’) whilst floating and sinking and being pulled apart by the fluidity of the guitar.
Dirty Death is a punch in the dark, springing from nowhere and ready to fight. It’s a drunken, dirty, frustrated track that thrusts forward, never slowing down to take a breath. It’s also, at high volumes, almost too beautiful to bear. Only when Queeny – a soothing, haunting lullaby – gets going are you given the chance to sit back in your chair and close your eyes. But then, suddenly, C’Est La Vie comes in to close the album, but not before spouting off a magic line like ‘I’d sell my soul for a pack of cigarettes.’
Swimming In Stone marks Jesse Younan as a man to watch. If there’s any justice in the musical world, his shows will be packed to the rafters with punters ready to laugh amongst their friends, cry into their beers and sing along to Younan’s songs, and his music will be resting in stereos all around Australia, waiting to be played at 3am when you’ve smoked too many cigarettes and had three too many beers.