Jonathan Something Announces Cannibal House Rules
Shares “It’s Hip Not To Try”
Album Out August 7th On Solitaire Recordings
In his career to date Jonathan Something’s music has never quite been what it seemed. Releasing two albums, Outlandish Poetica and Art So Small You Can Hardly See It and numerous one off singles and 7 inches over the last two years that have been praised by the likes of NPR, Billboard and Stereogum, he initially appears to present a traditionalist’s sonic palette and a classic pop songsmith’s sensibility, recalling the effortless melodic feel of Nick Lowe and the unassuming, everyman charm of Jonathan Richman. Dig a little deeper though, and there’s something altogether stranger going on. T
he Brooklyn, Connecticut product’s subversive perspective lurks beneath the surface of even his earliest singles. Tracks like “Fine” – a song that wouldn’t sound out of place on a “Best of Sun Records” compilation but opens with a verse detailing an emotional collapse in the dugout of his old middle school’s baseball diamond – or “All My Life” – where he meditates on existential dread from the perspective of the drummer in a Steely Dan cover band over hand drums and Spanish guitar – through to his adventurous sophomore full length Art So Small You Can Hardly See It, which earned praise from outlets like Billboard, Stereogum and NPR who described his songwriting as “delightfully bizarre.”
Though still at the very beginning of his career, his is a catalog that already displays a skillful musical command, a puckish sense of humor, and a knack for absurdist but pointed send ups that at times make him feel like an indie rock Andy Kaufman.
The new single release is full of charm. It exudes passion and resonates in honesty. A dazzling new single which captures of the best of your favourite 80s pop hits , fused with darker lyrics and brash vocals and turns it into something bold and unique to Jonathan Something. Rhythmic and raucous whats not to love.
It shouldn’t be surprising then that for his third album,Cannibal House Rules, which he is announcing today ahead of an August 7th release on Solitaire Recordings, Jonathan Something has made a sharp left turn and created something that not even the most attentive members of his cult-like fanbase could have predicted. Partly inspired by his interests in anime, classic horror/sci fi cinema and video games, Cannibal House Rules is a synth-driven album of pop songs that draw on the cultural ephemera of the mid 80s, blending the sounds of Italo disco and top 40 new wave with John Carpenter’s Big Trouble In Little China and Brad Fiedel’s The Terminator scores on a release that is structured to play like the soundtrack from a non-existent film.
The album’s first single “It’s Hip Not To Try,” which Something is sharing today along with its video, neatly captures the LP’s unusual aesthetic, as Something presents what initially appears to be a familiar sonic palette before bending it’s edges in unexpected ways. Pulsing electric piano and wailing synth sax establish a mood of high yacht rock smoothness before Something punctures the bubble and redirects the trappings of slick ’80s balladry as the song comes apart at the seams, with vaguely monstrous, bit-crushed vocals distorting an otherwise soaring chorus.
“I’ve been inspired by Original Sound Tracks for a long time,” says Something. “I tend to get voice fatigue when listening to music and just want to hear instrumental music that’s able to build a world within the sound. It started off with Ennio Morricone and his endless supply of beautiful memories and eventually led me to people like Vangelis and Tangerine Dream and the retro futuristic wonder they weave into their songs. I’ve always tried to make music to fill in the gaps of what I want to hear, so that’s what I’m doing with this album.”
Opening with the instrumental “Theme To Cannibal House Rules” that weaves together motifs from songs on the album in the style of a retro movie theme, Something initially appears to have made his backward-looking intentions plain, but rapidly begins complicating that presentation. There is an uneasy tension in the production that plays into the songwriting, as Something shows that he is fully capable of creating Todd Rundgren-esque reproductions of the sounds of ‘80s hits, but always bends the ideas at their edges while confounding expectations with his subject matter. The glassine DX-7 chords channel Whitney Houtson’s “Didn’t We Almost Have It All” in the opening verse of “Power Moves,” but Something immediately pushes the sleek feel of ‘80s pop balladry past its breaking point in the service of a song that skewers the mentality of self-styled “self-made men.”
Arpeggiators spiral out of control as he spews obviously self-conscious suggestions of his own sexual power and repeats the mantra “I’ve got a million, I did it myself” as though Kieran Culkin’s Roman Roy character from Succession had written a long lost Wang Chung hit.
On the title track, “Cannibal House Rules,” he presents a concept he claims he came up with while playing Diablo 3 with his friends, bubbling synth lines interacting as he indulges in a relationships-as-cannibalism metaphor that is complicated by his romantic partner being a literal cannibal.
Something’s irreverence and playfulness are a central part of Cannibal House Rules, as they have been in his entire catalog to date, but the album contains moments of vulnerability and honesty that his manic pastiche never detracts from and often heightens.
The bombastic “Sticky Love,” which recalls the major label new wave of Corey Hart’s “Sunglasses at Night,” cruises along in a familiar mode before dropping its strutting arrangement entirely when Something strips down to an acoustic guitar and vocal set up to deliver a chorus about struggling to leave a toxic relationship. Similarly the gorgeous “Cake World” leverages the dripping atmospherics of its warm synth tones into a poignant account of a powerful and unrepeatable infatuation, while “I Tried To Lose You (But I Don’t Know How)” resonates like the climax of a John Hughes movie as Something navigates the subconscious desire to be near someone you’re trying to forget.
It’s a fascinating listen that churns through pop culture ephemera and songwriting modes with mad-cap abandon while still managing to communicate the very personal and human perspective at its core. It’s a record that’s brave enough to be absurd from a songwriter who is skilled enough to show the difficult parts of himself without being alienating. One that reproduces familiar sonic ideas while managing to stand apart from its influences, and in its freewheeling and omnivorous approach to another era of pop music it stands as the clearest expression yet of the originality of Jonathan Something’s voice and the astonishing depth of his talent.
Cannibal House Rules will be released on Solitaire Recordings on August 7th. It is available for preorder here.
01 – Theme To Cannibal House Rules
02 – God Is Goth
03 – Power Moves
04 – Sticky Love
05 – Cannibal’s Reprise
06 – Cake World
07 – The Cannibal’s Den
08 – I Tried To Lose You (But I Don’t Know How)
09 – Firestarter
10 – Escape From Sex City
11 – Idiot In Love
12 – Waves
13 – It’s Hip Not To Try
14 – Voices From Beyond
15 – Cannibal House Rules
16 – You’re Surrounded