Album Review: Cosmo Jarvis – Think Bigger

By on Friday, 3rd August 2012 at 12:00 pm
 

Is there one word that sums up the Internet? Freedom? Individuality? Sleaze? The true answer is Meme. The speed at which intellectual concepts, especially base ones, can conceive and proliferate within the internet’s hive mind is beyond anything ever seen in the history of mankind. A few hundred years ago, people died before their ideas were well-known, let alone became famous for having them in the first place. The meme is halfway around the world before basic fact has even got its boots on. In its true sense, a meme is a weightless concept, something which exists both in the mind of the observer, and in the unseen, microscopic logic circuits of the boundless technological brain which we have both built and moulded ourselves into its bland conceit.

A freshly-manufactured computer, just like a newborn baby, is a knowledge vacuum. Both contain practically infinite capacity for storage of new information; both have the means to absorb said information via a number of sensory addenda. Both have carers, whose prime motivation is to fill their charges with a steady flow of fresh stimulation. And both can and will react to this new information in subtle ways, unthought of, and often unwelcomed, by their creators.

Cosmo Jarvis is of an age which means he has matured in parallel with the Internet. He has been able to take for granted its capacity for instant receipt and dissemination of information. There is no thought in his mind which cannot be realised, recorded, and immediately distributed to the world using the wonders of cheaply-available technology. There are those, like this author, who are just that little bit old to be able to be motivated by the advantage of today’s instant movement of information. There are those, like Bill Bryson, who choose not to engage at all, supposing correctly that their talent lies in long-form prose and personal charm; more suited to being presented within the quiet dignity of a paper book or face-to-face than in fleeting pixels.

Given the opportunities afforded by the Internet, individuals can propagate themselves via their creative output, and their notoriety will spread, or not, depending on the relevance of their work, and how well it is promoted. In the online world, people themselves, or at least their online doppelganger, become memes – amongst myriad other Twitter and YouTube celebrities, Cosmo Jarvis is one such character. The difference is, rather than being known for propagating controversial, offensive, or simply vacuous pearls of “twit”ter, Jarvis has actually been uploading pretty decent audiovisual art. He’s been releasing YouTube shorts since his early teens, making the break into music with 2009’s sprawling double ‘Humasyouhitch/Sonofabitch’, and 2011’s ‘Is the World Strange or Am I Strange?’, which contained Jarvis’ high-water mark so far, the million hits-worthy video for ‘Gay Pirates’, an impressive single-take amateur production which acts out the song’s themes. Not everyone thought this a worthy song however, with NME perfunctorily dismissing the whole affair with a 1/10 review, leading to a brilliant online spat between creator and reviewer. 2012 sees the release of ‘Think Bigger’, a collection apparently designed to hang together better as a piece, taming the magpie tendencies of previous work; somehow I doubt NME will be listening to it.

First track and lead-off single ‘Love This’ (acoustic version here) is a bullish, one-sided conversation between a religious sceptic and his doubted God. Featuring a number of superb couplets detailing the logical fallacy of a controlling deity (“How come every man ain’t good? / If it happened overnight would you retire if you could?”). A decent piece of investigative philosophy with a downright catchy chorus, some nice strings, and a superbly humourous one-take video, with Jarvis cast as an arrogantly strutting Devil-child. This is a much more thoughtful debate on the religious question than the burgeoning militant anti-religious (particularly anti-Christian) fervour which currently infests large parts of social media.

‘Train Downtown’ is more complex and no less intriguing, with its talk of leaving a package on a train. What could the package be? Classified documents? A bomb? Elsewhere the lyrics dwell on the surveillance society, and the relationship between a working man and his family. Serious stuff. Musically, there’s a string section, and an electric guitar interlude worthy of the finest early-90s funk-metal shredders. Quite the standout track.

‘Tell Me Who to Be’ is a decent concept in a bland wrapper and a mis-step as the all-important third track on an album. Let’s pretend it isn’t there. As if to prove the inextricable link ‘twixt performer and technology, ‘Lacie’ is a beautiful love song… to his desktop hard disk. Possibly not the very first romantic ode to a piece of computer hardware, but surely one of the most well-expressed (“I burden you with dreams / I can’t hold ‘em all so you’re splitting at the seams”), and could almost be mistaken for a song about a human companion.

CP/M
I used to love you CP/M
Screens were small and green back then
I spoke your language
CP/M

Then I found another boss
Who looked like you, our paths did cross
Twixt friends of friends
MS-DOS

But even still one heard of those
Whose brains could not decipher code
Instead they chose
Windows

And that was it, and there I stayed
Through thick and thin, multi-paned
Endlessly upgrade
Thanks, Gates

Figure 1. A demonstration of the difficulty of artfully expressing technological sentiment

Elsewhere, the album touches on country-rock (a cover of the Grateful Dead’s ‘Friend of the Devil’), suicide-tinged balladry (‘Hopeless Bay’), and upbeat optimism (‘Think Bigger’). What’s notable in this collection is that despite the range of themes and musical styles, there is a singular storytelling voice at its heart. Jarvis is a polymath, a talented musician with a parallel love for the moving image, especially if it has him in it. His prolific output inevitably leads some to concentrate on weaker material and dismiss him as a talentless chancer. But he is blessed with a fine ear for a catchy melody, intriguing lyrical content, and excellent musicianship.

Some of the greatest musicians of our time (Bob Dylan, Neil Young) are known for their prolific, variously-styled releases, not all of which are classics. Jarvis shares this attribute. He’s unlikely ever to be a darling of the media – he appears to eschew trends, and espouses an independent worldview largely incompatible with the cosy unwritten agreements between trendy bands and fawning media which all too often value presentation over musical substance. I imagine this suits Jarvis just fine; he has a burgeoning fanbase already, and as this release shows, his musical output is increasing in both quality and consistency, not to mention the imminent release of his oddly-plotted debut feature film The Naughty Room (trailer below). This particular meme has a lot further to run.

7.5/10

Cosmo Jarvis’ ‘Think Bigger’ album is available now from 25the Frame Productions.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UjAvrrm4rh4[/youtube]

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