Enough of the Red House Painters and Elliott Smith comparisons, kids. Vancouver’s Jonathan Inc.—Radiogram veteran singer/songwriter Jonathan Anderson and whoever he invites along for the ride—is a throwback to Jackson Browne. Anderson’s soaringly earnest vocals sound uncannily like Browne’s, and his mopey confessional songwriting places him squarely in the SoCal troubadour tradition of Browne and many other seventies icons. What goes around comes around, in spite of whatever shiny new labels rock journalists want to foist upon musicians who are only doing what the sensitive hippies did a couple generations before them.
But it’s pretty decent company. And I’ll relent and admit that Things Done and Left Undone, Anderson’s third album, sounds good regardless of its decade of origin. These well-crafted songs unfold with quiet restraint, buoyed by shimmering guitars, layered strings, and Anderson’s limited but effective vocals, ragged and soulful in all the right places. The languid tempos and melancholy lyrics are slightly tiresome, but Anderson varies the mix frequently enough—as on the gorgeous melodic pop of “Lights Go Down.” the musically upbeat “Unbroken Silence,” and the uplifting closer “Bitter Seed”—to avoid the coma-inducing tendencies of so much of slo-core music.
The album is far too mist-shrouded and atmospheric to qualify as an immediately accessible triumph, but it grows on you, with genuine pop hooks emerging through the sonic fog. Things Done and Left Undone takes its sweet time to seduce you, but once under its spell you’re likely to come back for repeated listenings. Just remember to thank the hippies.