Jerry Paper Creates Existential Grooves on ‘Like a Baby’< < Back to
L.A.’s Lucas Nathan, known professionally by his pseudonym Jerry Paper, covers ripe psychological territory on his latest, Like a Baby, spinning together characters from the ethereal threads of masterfully placed grooves, whimsical instrumentation, and simple imagery.
On the album, Nathan draws on the seemingly disparate soundscapes of Steely Dan; the dreamy, intricate Japanese electronic music like that of Shigeo Shekito and Haroumi Hosono; and psychedelia-infused samba à la Erasmos Carlos or Gilberto Gil.
Opener “Your Cocoon” turns an empathetic, if desperate, eye to someone anchored in the murky, ever-incriminating waters of the self. Like someone walking out of a Donald Fagen production, Nathan’s subject has “decided it all too soon/rolling joints, it’s not even noon,” all to the indifferent, yet sonically captivating rhythm of jazzy synthesizers and lightweight percussion.
The spirit of L.A.’s innumerable islands of shopping centers permeate the record, perhaps most obviously in the album’s language of receipts, swap meets, and cereal aisles, but more importantly in its uncluttered, appetizing array of soundscapes. Music plays a big part in the American shopping experience, and if only we were treated to something as cerebrally excavatable as Like a Baby while we picked out our toothpaste and bunches of bananas.
“Grey Area,” to which Natalie Mering (Weyes Blood) provides empyrean vocals to, is not only an atmospheric observation on “this big boy world,” it’s also a mutated orchestral pop song, akin to Burt Bacharach meeting neoplasticism. The song feels emotionally familiar, made up of nebulous observations paired with paradoxically precise simple instrumentation. “Grey Area” folds into the squirming, weightless lounge sounds of “A Moment,” an uptick experiment in Nathan’s penchant for expertly executed auditory constraint. The song’s starts and stops serve as its kinetic energy, creating a scrumptious buoyancy.
Nathan’s Stones Throw Records labelmate, Mild High Club’s Alex Brettin, makes a cameo on “Did I Buy It,” a restrained, breezy testament to “thinking about the big stuff.” Nathan mentions “money and misery,” in particular, as well as “the end times,” but speculation on these subjects aren’t enough to make it possible to wave to his friend Mary — in her new suit, yet – because his arms are too weighed down with shopping bags full of things he can’t take back.
“My God,” a single that Stones Throw released via a brilliantly absurd video directed by artist Steve Smith last month, might be the penultimate moment of Like a Baby. In it, Nathan weaves together a woebegone universe whose higher power not only exists behind a desk cluttered with Their personal mementos, but literally weighs the worth of each of its creations by their financial wealth.
“Bury me with my receipts, my history in transactions/calculate the cost of my life/down to a single cent/we’ll see how my life went/and when I cross through those pearly gates I’ll toss/all of my paychecks at the feet of my God,” Nathan vocalizes in a tone not unlike the dampened horns that provide his vaguely tropical accompaniment on the song.
The album ends with “More Bad News,” a stripped down, syrupy conclusion in which the song’s protagonist finds themselves making a trip to the pharmacy after hearing “bad news” on the radio, leaving their phone at home because it “feels healthier.” In the end, they simply turn off the radio, left with only their immediate reality.
Like a Baby comments on and works within the confines of our immediate reality – of shopping centers and pay stubs and cars — all symbols of concepts that may or may not exist in the same way our breath enters and exits our lungs. The album is a commentary on the finite versus the infinite; what we see as the background versus the foreground; the reality of our surroundings versus the way in which we choose to perceive them. But it’s also just a really catchy batch of pop songs that stick with you as you’re driving your car, buying your groceries, and pondering the very nature of your existence.
“Like a Baby” is out October 12 via Stones Throw Records. Listen to WOUB’s interview with Nathan about his most recent single, “My God,” embedded above.