Aaron Lee Tasjan’s latest is a confident, audacious work that earns all of its explanation points.
Because he’s found a home on the New West label and has generally adopted a retro-minded style, Aaron Lee Tasjan has been characterized as an Americana act. But his third album, Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan!, recalls very little of the homogenized Dave Cobb aesthetic that has come to define that catch-all genre, and that’s absolutely a credit to Tasjan’s adventurousness. If anything, Tasjan! sounds like the first true heir to Kacey Musgraves’ landmark Golden Hour, drawing heavily from elements of vintage pop, “cosmic country,” and late-’90s folktronica. More significantly, it’s the first album on which Tasjan sounds fully at home in his own skin, as though he’s finally figured out exactly what territory he wants to stake as he defines himself as a truly vital artist. To that end, Tasjan retains his wiseass sense of humor and leans into his queerness throughout the project, mining inspiration from his unconventional path as a college dropout turned in-demand touring musician. The album is strongest when Tasjan is at his most direct and forceful. “Sunday Women” slathers a Fountains of Wayne-style power-pop song in psychedelic flourishes, as Tasjan exclaims, “All I wanted was to dream with you / And make one of our dreams come true,” before asking, “Whatever happened to Sunday women?” “Up All Night” is even better, with Tasjan backed by some tympani drums as he remarks, “Broke up with my boyfriend / To go out with my girlfriend / ‘Cause love is like that,” with a plainspoken matter-of-factness that projects something more akin to wisdom than braggadocio.
Tasjan is a terrific singer, armed with a lithe tenor that he can use to affect a sneer or lapse into a falsetto: that his voice could best be described as “pretty” on “Not That Bad” and “Got What I Wanted” is a reflection of his deliberate choices and his refusal to be bound by how an Americana singer-songwriter is ostensibly supposed to sing. That’s most apparent on the album’s centerpiece, “Feminine Walk.” Over a finger-plucked guitar figure out of an Ennio Morricone score and some swirling, hazy synths, Tasjan calls himself a “metropolitan Conway Twitty” while name-checking To Wong Foo and drawling the “a” in the word “walk” in the song’s hook into the kind of vowel George Jones routinely invented. It’s not the kind of performance given by an artist lacking in confidence, and Tasjan is truly in peak form here. As an album that is definitively his in content and style, Tasjan! earns each one of its exclamation points.
Published as part of Album Roundup — February 2021 | Part 4.