How I only heard about New York's Jeffrey Lewis for the first time about a month ago I really don't know, but this is the kind of new music I want to be listening to. 32 year old Lewis is both a comic book artist and a prolific musician...both in terms of recorded output and general wordsmithery. His highly literate lyrics are witty, sweet, cutting, insightful, surreal...the whole shebang. At times it feels like he's an impish child who has devilishly pulled at the end of the ribbon holding a bulging Santa's sack closed; and that sack is chock full to the brim with words, ready to spill out all over the pavement, bouncing all over the place like marbles and running amok.
Part of New York's current 'anti-folk' scene, in which the emphasis is placed on lyrical creativity and sonic innovation, as opposed to technical musicianship, this is a young man with a ludicrous amount of words, and who isn't afraid to use them! Those of you currently getting into the Juno soundtrack (which I have been meaning to write about for a while...I just never seem to get around to it) will like this; although Lewis' tunes are very varied, they remind of The Moldy Peaches in places.
And this is not just some strange coincidence. Lewis has previously collaborated with Kimya Dawson, has appeared on stage supporting Adam Green, and has provided the artwork for several of their album covers.
As for the comic books - he produces his own series, Fuff (formerly Guff) and, elsewhere, is responsible for characters such as Baby Shoes, who "has legs growing out of his head and he's addicted to shooting truth serum". He site his illustratory heroes as Dan Clowes and Alan Moore...and even based his senior year thesis on the latter's Watchmen.
Making music since 1997 and signed to Rough Trade in 2001 he has, to date, released four albums (official albums that is...there are plenty more mix-tapes and self-releases knocking about) - 2001's The Last Time I Did Acid I Went Insane, 2003's It's The Ones Who've Cracked That The Light Shines Through, 2005's (2006 in the US) City and Eastern Songs and, most recently, 2007's 12 Crass Songs (due to be released in the US on 28th January).
As the title would suggest, this most recent album features twelve Lewis reworkings of songs originally by the British, pacifist, anti-capitalist anarcho-punksters Crass. What once were high energy, vitriolic and aggressive-sounding (don't get me wrong, brilliant sounding) diatribes have been transformed into subdued psychedelic folk music. Before you tune out completely, let me tell you that somehow this really works. What the songs have lost in urgency, they have gained in buckets in terms of being able to appreciate their excellent, thoughtful lyrics. I'm not quite sure how, but none of the message seems to be lost, and a lot of Lewis' covers come off sounding almost pretty.
I can't get enough of Jeffrey Lightning Lewis (I read somewhere that he was named that by his beatnik parents!) at the moment and I'd love you to join me for the ride.
Have a look at an example of his comic book work here (more examples at his own website; link below). The cover to 12 Crass Songs is itself a 16 page fold-out comic book strip, and is just gorgeous!
Visit Jeffrey Lewis at MySpace.
Visit his website for info. on Lewis' discography, tour dates, comic books, general news...or to play Space Invaders!
Also check out The Gasman Cometh, Systematic Death and I Ain't Thick, It's Just A Trick.
From It's The Ones Who've Cracked That The Light Shines Through:
From Gas Money Tour EP:
The Jeff Lewis Band - Swamp Thing
(A cover of Schwervon!...on this EP, each band covered 3 of the other's songs)