On his debut album Paddywhack, James Friley (better known around these parts as Idiot Glee) nosed simultaneously into synth-pop and doo-wop for a unique filter on lo-fi songwriting. Instead of choosing one channel and running with it, Friley has only pushed further into disparate genres since the LP’s release. His followup EP Life Without Jazz strains out some of Paddywhack‘s psychedelia for a sound that’s both more reliant on its roots and increasingly mutative.
While most bedroom pop artists find comfort in caging themselves away from genre, Idiot Glee embraces rock’s back catalogs with a rare fervor. Friley cites Brian Wilson and Fleetwood Mac as primary influences, but everything from ’50s doo-wop up to Casiotone for the Painfully Alone creeps in at some angle on these tracks. It’s possible that Friley has never heard California in his life, but it’s hard not to think of Mr. Bungle’s aggressive genre-mangling while listening to Life Without Jazz. Like Mike Patton’s early work, the EP is full of internal contradictions and strange juxtapositions that somehow coalesce into an addictive, if perplexing, sound.
It could be that Idiot Glee succeeds by ignoring advice. Every bedroom producer gets warned to shy away from the Casio SK-1, but lead single “Pinkwood” features Friley dueting with its infamous “human voice” setting. Morrissey-level warbling has been mostly shunned in favor of reverb-curtained whispers, but Friley continues to deliver a classic vocal performance with only a trace of echo. On “Berlin”, saxophones curl around a tattered hair metal guitar solo in a reckless feat of rule-breaking.
Idiot Glee occupies a strange, unusually specific space on the sprawling web of genre that artists now play on. By letting band-hall performance and bedroom tinkering riff in the same space, Friley digs a deep niche that may not have universal appeal, but at least keeps us on our toes.
Essential Tracks: “Pipes”