From its opening instrumental gestures, “Glass Jar” reveals itself to be exactly the sort of graceful, well-crafted rock’n’roll that I, personally, need right now. No posturing and no processing here. We get instead a straight-ahead blend of organ and guitar, and an infectious groove led by an agile bass line. And then, on top, we get Tristen Gaspadarek’s lovely, decisive voice, singing unflappable melodies that lead adroitly to the chorus’s simple, subtle brilliance:
You put me in a glass jar and tap, tap, tap
To see how I move
These lines work with a musical and lyrical synergy not often seen. First, the lyric presents us with an incisive relationship metaphor, with built-in layers of meaning that I feel I will only detract from if I attempt to unpack. Just think about it for a while, noting how beautifully the music reinforces the lyrical strata, boosted by Jenny Lewis’s backing vocals, and coalescing around the hammering conveyed by the on-the-beat clockwork of the “tap tap tap” line. And then note the music’s refusal to resolve at the end of the lyrical line; it takes that chugging little organ line in the background to bring us to some kind of end point. That organ line in fact has been an understated star of the show since we first heard it answering the lyric “They’re all assassins” in the first verse (0:32)—it’s just the kind of instrumental motif that a good song will volunteer effortlessly.
The Nashville-based Tristen (she uses her first name only) is a singer/songwriter who makes me simultaneously hopeful and despondent about the state of music. Hopeful for the realization that smart, nimble rock’n’roll is yet possible here in this “barbaric slaughterhouse known as humanity” (as per Wes Anderson); despondent for how easily something this good can slip past any kind of widespread recognition. “Glass Jar” has been out for months. It’s been posted by exactly four other blogs on Hype Machine before this post. And this a song enhanced further by the vocal presence of the aforementioned Lewis.
The sad truth is that in this viral-sensation-oriented online culture we’ve aided and abetted collectively for the past 15 years or so, smart and graceful doesn’t tend to generate the clicks. Draw your own conclusions but me I’m fucking fed up with the whole thing. Nothing good comes of mob action, whether in the physical world or the digital one. And nothing attracts a mob quite like viral attractions. And the web has been calibrated to foster viral attractions.
Anyway: “Glass Jar” is a song from Tristen’s album Sneaker Waves, which was released in July. The MP3 is via KEXP. Tristen was previously featured here on Fingertips way back in 2010, for the irresistible song “Baby Drugs.” And if you’re in the holiday mood, here’s a bonus stream, from 2011: Tristen doing a lovely, Spector-esque cover of “Frosty the Snowman.”