Sometimes music just happens. Whether an artist picks up a guitar and strums bullshit, or a songwriter decides to scribble on a piece of paper, creativity peaks in unusual ways. For rock ‘n’ roll rolodex Jason Narducy, he hadn’t written new material in over eight years, and then suddenly, at the prospect of a solo show, he just did it. “I thought, ‘What if I wrote and played 10 new songs?’” Narducy explained in a press release. “The show went well, and three songs I’d written for it – ‘Never Look Back,’ ‘Love Is You,’ and ‘My Eyes’ – actually ended up on Fragmented World.” Few songwriters are this candid about their approach; many more opt for the impassioned approach, conjuring up tales of faraway cabins, Shakespearean breakups, or personal losses. So, it’s nice to know that Narducy basically realized he’d been bored creatively, was smacked with an opportunity, and he just went with it.
His connections certainly helped. Pulling in Spoon’s Britt Daniel on bass and funnyman Jon Wurster on drums, Narducy couldn’t have asked for a sharper lineup for Split Single. He also couldn’t have asked for a more appropriate one, either. Daniel’s particular, sure, but not methodical to the point that he’d cripple Narducy’s carefree approach. “I’m always wearing so many hats, so I loved the idea of being in a band where all I do is play bass on someone else’s stuff,” Daniel said in the same press release. “I felt like a session musician, which was so cool. Still, I got pretty in depth: there were no preconceptions, which is what collaboration is all about.” Wurster further cemented the anarchic process, adding: “We rehearsed at Britt’s house for a couple hours the night before we started recording.” Why so many quotes, what is this, a fucking press release, too? Calm down, it’s simply a way to add some context and drive home the bottom line, which is this: Fragmented World doesn’t want you to think, namely because it doesn’t really think much itself.
A healthy dose of the bubbly power pop here mirrors Narducy’s neverending résumé, whether it’s his work with Chicago’s Verböten, its offshoot Verbow, or any number of additions he’s made to material written by Bob Mould, Robert Pollard, Telekinesis, or Superchunk. In a way, though, its spirit shares a lot with the FM rock of the late ’90s; think of the quick-punch alternative of Semisonic, Duncan Sheik, Natalie Imbruglia, The Wallflowers, or any other album you paid $18.99 for for three songs. That might make you wince, but wipe off the bullshit smirk and act real for a second; you know that makes you kind of, maybe, okay excited — and it should. He’s not regurgitating that stuff; no, he’s capturing its ethos. All of those sugar-coated rock bands aimed for the moment, not the heart exactly, and while they weren’t timeless, they sounded great in that moment. What Split Single does is round up all of those emotions and cranks out 10 tracks all worthy of FM radio. And, yeah, they’re better songs, too.
“I fell asleep to kill moonlight/ But you never look back, no you never look back,” Narducy pines on the aptly titled “Never Look Back”. It’s chummy stuff, but Christ it’ll keep you floating. The same goes for the rather self-aware closer, “My Heart Is Your Shadow”, which no lie, includes this line: “Singles are a moment/ Albums afternoons/ Laid on the floor of the parlour room.” C’mon, you can’t take this stuff seriously, and that’s why Narducy doesn’t. It’s the sort of lyric that works in that drive, that groove, and even the slightest more severe of a theme would turn the blinds on its aural sunshine. To his credit, Narducy does squeeze in a couple of tear-worthy images. On the harmony-driven “Searches”, he etches out the following: “Winds push barren trees/ Not yet discovered/ They finally fall, fall to earth/ Make room for others.” Watch out, Robert Frost.
Fragmented World also benefits from clean production. Finally, a happy rock record that wasn’t recorded on a college student’s four-track in some cluttered basement. (Not that I don’t love lo-fi recording, but hey, I grew up on Damn the Torpedoes and Nevermind.) Recorded at Los Angeles’ Sound Factory and overseen by Ken Sluiter, the crisp recording makes for a crisp listen, allowing for honey sweet sing-alongs and the poppy distorted ease that made Dave Grohl a household name. Actually, come to think of it, they’d be a solid opener for the Foo Fighters later this year. Considering Grohl owes his career to Narducy — “It wasn’t a Jimmy Page or KISS poster I had – it was fuckin’ him!” — that’s not too outrageous of a proposition. Just take a listen to “Monolith” here, and then see if you agree or disagree with Grohl.
So, what’d we learn? Well, if you’re looking for a rock album to feel good, then this one will do. Fragmented World is a testament to chaos, that when the going’s tough, the best thing to do sometimes is to mutter, “Fuck it, man.” If only that applied to everything in life.
Essential Tracks: “Never Look Back”, “My Heart Is Your Shadow”