Having just explored and written about his latest album, Scratch That, it seemed only logical that I should now look back into some of the earlier work by the enigmatic and eclectic J Crist. And the back catalogue is as substantial as it is varied, it is safe to say that not only is this artist no slouch when it comes to putting out new music but the range that he covers in terms of sound and style is about as varied as it is possible to get.
And given that Onward is a compilation album of ten years worth of material, then it is only natural that it can only be a snapshot of the sonic spectrum of the artist. But as showcases go, it gives you a great insight into some of his core ideas and approaches, and acts as the perfect starting point from which point to take that deep dive into his world.
If Scratch That seemed dominated by space, atmosphere and electronics, Onward’s sound is based on more traditional, guitar-led, song structures. That is not to say that he doesn’t manage to put his own spin on things, add his own creative fingerprints and impose his left-field way of thinking to the album, but there is a lot here that people will already feel at home with before heading out to check out some of his more singular and fantastic music-making.
Same As Ever takes us by the hand and leads us in, a claustrophobic and dense, funk ‘n’ roll starting point shot through with psychedelic guitars and electronic slashes, as if The Doors had actually formed in 2005 rather than 40 years earlier. Looking Out For You captures the spirit of early garage rock, a slice of 60’s underground psychedelia, dusted down and polished off for a new audience, but not so much that the Summer of Love heads wouldn’t find plenty to love in its dark and delicious moves.
Low is a particular favourite, spiralling, Latin guitars, warped and bend into new, rock and roll leaning shapes, a heady blend of Hendrick and Segovia fighting for the soul of modern music. Count To Three also sparkles with 60’s power-pop grooves and Should Have Known Better is filled with the same taut, tense vibes and the nervous energy that came to define the better artists of the New Wave era.
Even though there is a decade’s worth of material covered here, it always sounds like a cohesive body of work. Many artists can push at their musical boundaries, hop from one genre and another and end up merely sounding like plagiarism or pastiches of established styles as if they are abandoning their own sound in favour of adopting another. J Crist sounds more as if he is dragging his own musical personality through various stylistic pastures and it is the blend of his own signature sounds and the additional inspirations that he picks up along the way that creates the music. After all, you can travel far and wide but the common denominator of those new places where you find yourself is always you. Onward might cover a lot of ground musically speaking but the one thing that always shines through is J Crist himself.