Rare is it that one can hear a hit or a star in the making. Tobias Jesso Jr. is the exception to this rule, and if his song “Hollywood” is an indicator, his debut album “Goon” will rocket to the indie music stratosphere and will likely crack the mainstream. While this means he’s no longer a well-kept secret, Jesso’s melodies remind listeners of a simple time when the world was analog and love was in the air. If this does happen, it also vindicates the persistence of an unlikely star who conceived the music after a long streak of bad luck (including a failed gig as a pop songwriter, getting dumped by his girlfriend, hit by a car and having to move home to Vancouver to care for his ailing mother, who is doing better now).
Jesso’s sound is a portmanteau of Harry Nilsson and Todd Rundgren, with a dash of trendy Hozier chord progressions thrown in for good measure and the wonky horns of early Bon Iver. His soft, ‘70s-influenced melodies debuted at the perfect time, with the surge of similar bands and musicians like Foxygen. There’s no edginess or cachet to “Hollywood” or the rest of Jesso’s music whatsoever, and that’s part of what makes it both enjoyable and resonant.
With such musicianship, Jesso is in danger of becoming a commodity, another pop musician stuck in the cogs of the star maker machine. Though he’s got a distinct sound, it’s easy to see how this could happen; Jesso’s lush, plaintive melodies are crying out for a bombastic ensemble orchestration. The beauty of his music lies in its romantic minimalism and simplicity. If this happens, he’s destined to become the next Adam Levine.
However, there’s no reason for Jesso to squander his talent to remain an authentic unknown. After listening to “Hollywood” (and his debut track, “True Love”), it’s evident that Jesso’s sheer artistry will keep him in the balladeer singer-songwriter mold where he’ll become notable but not notorious. At the very least, it’s proof that persistence is indeed key.