DELUSIONS OF ADEQUECY.NET:
Col. Summers Park
Hush /Jealous Butcher
Jeff London. Forgive me, but I have some negative associations with that name. You see, my 10th and 11th grade math teacher was a man named Jeff London. As I was horrible in the study of mathematics, Mr. London presided over some of my darkest academic moments. Being my baseball coach for two years, he also engineered some of my greatest athletic collapses, as well. No doubt, this Jeff London, is going to have to overwhelm me to break this conditioned negativity that saturates me before even listening to his music.
Luckily for him, the musical Jeff London excels in crafting just the kind of achingly honest folk-tinged songwriting that is capable of breaking down unconscious barriers. When not playing bass for indie popsters Boy Crazy, London can be found pairing introspection with occasionally lush, occasionally dissonant sonic dressings. While not the type of songwriter to hand you his melodies with a wink and a handshake, it takes few listens for their winning qualities to find harbor in your head.
With the opening solo acoustic guitar lines of â€œStrong Winters Cease,â€ draped in tasteful violin and Rhodes organ, it appears that Portlandâ€™s Hush Records, already with Kind of Like Spitting, Fancie, and Corrina Repp in tow, has cornered the market on this sort of modern indie-folk. The richly adorned â€œRoutine Abandonment (Lifeboat),â€ with soft French horn riding a beautifully rising melody and strangely dissonant fuzz bass, is indicative of an adventurous spirit, not content to simply mine the safe territory between heartfelt expression and commonplace arrangements.
Time and again, Jeff London displays an impressive knowledge of adding just the right touches to fill out his more evasive arrangements. The weary pedal steel and weepy violin of â€œBarely Breathingâ€ certainly calls to mind Vic Chesnutt, with Kind of Like Spittingâ€™s Ben Barrett adding lonesome backup vocals and lead guitar. Displaying similar contrast, the bouncy clap-along â€œHow Love Isâ€ and the Neil Young-ish â€œCat On a String,â€ whose solemnity is shattered by an unexpectedly brash guitar solo, insure that you never grow too comfortable during the course of each song. Similarly unexpected, â€œHumphrey Hillâ€ incorporates haunting minor chord changes and heartsick ruminations that make the song as picturesque as its title.
As the album artwork is dotted with autumnal photographs, it is altogether appropriate that Col. Summer Park is the kind of warm toned album that feels like a warm sweater on a fall day. While the album isnâ€™t a full-on embrace, Londonâ€™s songwriting is welcoming and inviting in spite of its preoccupation with transition, failed relationships, and homesickness. But, music has always served the function of helping its performers heal themselves, and Jeff London may just help me balance the ugly memories associated with his nameâ€™s sake with far more positive associations.
-Matt Fink , 6/11/01
DELUSIONS OF ADEQUECY.NET:
Kind of Like Spitting / Jeff London
Home – Split EP Series Vol. I
Home is the first of 10 split CD EPs to be released on Post-Parlo Records, and it’s an interesting way to start the series. Neither Kind of Like Spitting nor Jeff London are going to pull in the mass audience, but that’s why I like the choice of these two artists for the first volume. Kicking it off quiet and simple is a nice touch, setting the stage for a series that seems to rely more on the value of the songs rather than well-known artists who are throwing away another song.
Kind of Like Spitting is really just Ben Barnett, and his two songs here are very consistent with the KOLS style, if you’ve heard them before. That’s right, quiet, singer/songwriter with a warbly voice playing an acoustic guitar. But, damn, his songs are good. “Beat Down the Kid” is very sparse, very simple, and KOLS’ beauty has always been in their simplicity. Barnett’s voice remains in control, which is most important when listening to his music. On “Grenada,” he adds some backing vocals which fill out the sound nicely. The song feels like Barnett is telling a story, and the production is better, making this the nicer of the two tracks. “I have to tell myself I’m having fun way too many times through the night,” Barnett sings. I’d take Kind of Like Spitting’s style of bare-bones rock any day over bands like Pedro the Lion.
Jeff London, another singer/songwriter from Portland, contributes two tracks that are similar in style to Kind of Like Spitting. However, while Barnett’s purpose seems to be making music as sparse and simple as possible, London adds in some keyboards and more consistent vocals throughout his songs. While his music is probably more accessible, it can be argued that Barnett’s vocal style delivers more sheer emotion. I still enjoy London’s songs here. The guitar is a bit more confident on “Happening to Me” without being too emphatic or pushy. But “Out of Reach” is the better of the two, a bit more folkish yet also more emotional and empassioned. I’ve only heard Jeff London on a Hush Records sampler before, but he’s made me a fan here.
These four songs, all similar in style and so pretty and moving, are a great way to kick off a series of split EPs, and I’m already excited about the next volume. Getting involved in this kind of thing early is always special, because you get beautiful packaging, limited editions (I’m 24/1000), and the feeling that you were involved since Day 1. Most importantly, you get the chance to find new artists and hear some wonderful music.
– Jeff , 8/14/00
JEFF LONDON PROFILE:
“I was down in Chico last week doing a show and this friend of mine says, ‘God, I’m sick of all these polite little folk eunuchs. Doesn’t anybody write about sex anymore?'” Jeff London chuckles heartily and sips his drink. On his debut release, Slowness (Hush Records), the singer/songwriter writes about sex, indeed, as well as other topics like Mom, day jobs, drinking, and that special Portland blend of self-deception, dreaming and paralysis.
With his warm, intellectual demeanor, London could pass as the “Cool Prof” in Psych 101. Which is close enough to the truth, as he sunlights as a Sociology major at Portland State University when he’s not rocking out. “I’m writing my Masters on ‘Community Based Production in Music in Response to the Identity/Solace-Denying Non-Site SpecificCommodification Process,'” he explains. London also likes making girls happy using tender words. Here’s an example from “Gina”: “Well I met a girl that I’m sure that/I could stumble home to/But we’re still at that state where we’re/Cautious about putting/Head on shoulder and/Expressing self-doubt/ It’ll all be settled when the kissing/Is golden and automatic.”
n person, London is a bit more effervescent than his album might reveal. Slowness owes something to the current spanked-child-sent-to-his-room vogue pioneered by Elliott Smith, Smog and others he admits to liking quite a lot. Written and recorded at a time when he was surfacing from a series of badly ended relationships and career indecision, the record is quietly cathartic. Slowness was taped at producer Rob Jones’ basement studio after a bicycle accident left London’s strumming arm broken and the inspiration flowing. London talks about cycles: “There’s definitely a time component to the flow of the songs. A lot of people like myself live in these cyclically occurring patterns in life: I jump in, I’m gung-ho; I have my doubts and I make my move and get shot down; but find a melancholy beauty in the trying.”
Since recording the CD, London has turned his powers of observation to focus on some compelling indigenous behavior patterns. “I’m having a great time writing songs about characters–the irony of their silly little pitfalls,” London observes. “There’s a particular thing here [in Portland] revolving around a high school mentality–‘If the cool kids don’t like me I’m gonna be depressed.’ I hang around with kids that are really addicted to toys. It’s campy and funny to look at; sad and hysterical at the same time. I see it as people playing games with their own self-esteemÆ’.”London is presently honing his new material with a backing band. It’s the first one he’s had and he’s quite excited about it. He’s been thinking a bit more about actual “entertainment” now that he’s documented his recent blue period. “I’m sick of people depressed and despondent that go home and have a secret fun time with their mate,” he grumbles. “I’m gonna always be playing songs that always reflect how I feel and hopefully create some fun in the process.”
No. 312 October 20-Novemeber 3, 1999 Â© Rocket Magazine, 1999 By Bob Gaulke
PITCHFORK MEDIA:The infamous review reprinted here for its transparent shallow bravado
Col. Summers Park
Jeff London is a wuss and his voice makes me want to hit him in the face with a wiffle-ball bat. Just something unpleasant enough to communicate my dislike, without the risk of causing serious injury. Come to think of it, maybe that’s just the problem with London’s album. Col. Summers Park does just enough to make a point, to communicate an emotion, but it never goes far enough in any one direction to make a serious impact. London swings a peacock feather, instead of the Louisville Slugger that any musician should wield if he expects you to give a damn.
Maybe it’s the whole notion of anti-rock. If you weren’t aware, Hush Records prides itself as the world’s foremost producer of “anti-rock.” And just what, you’re dying to know, is anti-rock? Damned if I know, but Hush describes it as music “bereft of power chords and bombast, lacking bravado and hot licks,” proudly admitting that it is, “well, weak,” and promising that, “Yes, sirree, as long as there is rock, we will celebrate our weakness.” Well, fine. Personally, I don’t think the more moronic strains of rock need an antidote, being self-incriminating enough not to require outside assistance. And, well, the rest of rock either works or it doesn’t. This whole anti-rock thing, though, just seems like a cheap trick to avoid being tagged as the more pedestrian “folk,” or the more direct “sucks shit.” But, hey, that’s neither fair nor accurate. Hush has put out a fair amount of really beautiful, really well put together, um, “quiet music.” Some of that can even be found on this Jeff London disc.
This album’s title song is, melodically speaking, anti-original, but still a very pretty track. The doubled vocals on the second verse and the introduction of drums shortly thereafter are a few of the details that London uses to good effect, in order to build the song up from the soft, insistent guitar strumming at the track’s outset. Rachel Blumberg, London’s vocal adornment and partner on several of these songs, offers fragile harmonies that keep things anti-redundant.
“Strong Winters Cease” reminds me of the coda to a dinner party I attended two or three summers ago. After being pummeled by an endless supply of red wine, the party-goers retired to the living room furniture for a sit-down session of “pass around the acoustic guitar and let anybody emboldened enough by the alcohol make a fucking ass of himself.” Like I said, the wine was plentiful. As one poor bastard took the guitar, people shot knowing, nervous glances at each other. And then it began. Tone-deafness and self-assurance make formidable partners, and before you know it, everybody was making the same “struggling to look normal even though I have a turd in my mouth” facial expression. “Strong Winters Cease,” and particularly London’s quavering, meandering lines, remind me very much of that performance. Granted, the melody is decent and the song resolves nicely at the end, but London’s voice sounds best (or rather, anti-worst) when he sticks within a tightly circumscribed range.
Things dart from insipid to barely-less-so for the next six tracks, with few quality stops. “Routine Abandonment” is one of the respites. The distorted bass and piano flourishes are executed well enough to keep things interesting, and to divert attention from London’s whiny pipes. Certain aspects of other tracks work beautifully. “Grenada” flexes beautiful guitar lines and harmonies between London and Hailey London, while “Long Island” has interesting, if overwrought, interplay between a pedal steel guitar, sleighbells, and a Rhodes keyboard. The withering, depressed buzzsaw guitar solo that punctures the quietude of “Cat on a String” is also noteworthy.
The album’s real stand-out track, however, is the charming “How Love Is.” It’s pop magic, sounding something like a Beatles/Motown hybrid, with an amazing boy/girl chorus featuring handclaps, an Elvis Costello-esque melody, and the line, “That’s how love is/ You can’t catch in it a net/ And make it your pet for just one day.”
I think somewhere along the way, sad-music musicians forgot that the relationship between “quiet,” “pretty” and “arresting” is, at most, correlative– and not causal. Jeff London can write a tune, or at least, he has the occasional lucky fluke. In any case, there’s ample evidence he’s got a good feel for pop melody. If he’d pawn his acoustic, stop trying to be so damned coffee-shop, and write some more bouncy sing-alongers, I’d feel better about urging you to check him out.
-Camilo Arturo Leslie
Jeff London / Col. Summers Park / Hush/Jealous Butcher (CD)
If you want to play the singer/songwriter game these days, you need to do it with some real panache; otherwise, you’re likely to wind up as another faceless performer with pretty songs and a nice voice. Jeff London obviously wants in on the action, but Col. Summers Park leaves something to be desired. Sure, London can pen a catchy tune, and his voice has a plaintive-yet-rustic troubadour quality, but he lacks any distinguishing characteristics. Heâ€™s not as lovestruck as Elliott Smith, or as clever as John Wesley Harding, and heâ€™s obviously had better luck in the relationship department than, say, Dashboard Confessionalâ€™s Christopher Carrabba. Songs like “Routine Abandonment (lifeboat)” and “Cat on a String” float past on pleasant folk-pop melodies and sickly-sweet harmonies, but never leave you with any feelings stronger than mild satisfaction. The game out there is tough, and based on Col. Summers Park , itâ€™s unlikely that Jeff London is going to get called up to the majors any time soon. — jj
THE ROCKET MAGAZINE:
Maintaining its knack for releasing material by some of Portland’s best new singer/songwriters, Hush Records has found a perfect addition to its growing roster of talent with Jeff London. Throughout this spare CD’s nine low-key gems, London questions and then answers his own uncertainties about himself and those around him with poetically introspective lyrics; he’s unafraid of letting the listener know he’s a sensitive guy. On “Magazine Life” he confesses to being something he is not: “But it doesn’t bother me much because being the voice on the box is enough.” His words continually prove his emotional conviction and honesty aren’t shallow or contrived. London’s muffled voice on “Solo Will” is reminiscent of early Sebadoh. Here he describes how “’70s police sunglasses reflect my languid pose,” while a soft violin buries lazy drums and loose guitar. “Wear a Boy Out,” the most upbeat of the songs, sounds like a stripped-down outtake from the Pavement catalog. Jeff London has created a perfect collection for quiet nights, when you want to listen to someone sing about all the moments that make you question your own life.
by Luke Strahota (First appeared in The Rocket magazine, 2/24/99)
HUSH 020 CD V/A: Mute 1. Later On
HUSH 019 CD V/A: Flag 1. Grenada 2. Automatic
HUSH 014 CD Slowness
HUSH 013 CD V/A: Mass 1. Close Enough
HUSH 005 CD V/A: Less 1. Red Becomes You 2. Weak Heart 3. Uninspired 4. Traditional Breed
JB-018 CS Uneasy
JB-026 CD V/A: Chico, CA. 1. Your Cynical Stance 2. Don’t go home