Jackson Scott’s trajectory is pretty much a cliche model for making indie music in 2013. After fiddling around with some musical recordings in high school and continuing to create a bit in college, Scott posted some tracks to Soundcloud and eventually people took notice. Soon he was signed to Fat Possum Records, he was opening for Bradford Cox, and blogs were rushing to feed the hype machine. The narrative is all fairly familiar, as is the music. Scott’s debut, Melbourne, draws from a variety of lo-fi pop influences over the course of its twelve fairly brief tracks. There’s some Atlas Sound, some Christopher Owens, some Kurt Vile. Such similarity isn’t totally a criticism. The familiar sound is only distracting sporadically. For the most part, Scott’s debut is technically adept, uneven, emotionally rich, and an impressive ‒ if not remarkable ‒ start to his recording career.
Scott opens with “Only Eternal,” an instrumental, industrial-sounding track that puts the listener in the dark, slightly unhinged state of mind required for this record. “Evie” is where the Bradford Cox similarities begin, to the point where I was wondering if they just carelessly forgot to put “(feat. Bradford Cox)” next to the song title. Both here and on “Together Forever,” the song is done in by the vocal similarity. It’s distracting and ultimately seems derivative. Scott proves throughout the record that he can shift his pitch in about a dozen different directions, so it would have served a few of these songs well to avoid such borderline imitation. For example, on “Sandy,” Scott gives his voice a bit more of a nasally tone and it actually works, in spite of itself. He’s able to give emotional heft to a song whose subject matter is already very heavy (the December massacre at Sandy Hook). There’s a sense of innocence, nostalgia, and unease that avoids appearing maudlin or even exploitative.
Beyond the vocals, some of the guitar work is also quite sophisticated. “That Awful Sound,” a very Elliott Smith-y track, shows Scott’s guitar at its most freewheeling, making for one of the highlights of the record. “Tomorrow” is built around a boldly repetitive guitar hook that should definitely become grating, but improbably manages to instead serve the song’s emotional uneasiness.
The album loses a bit of steam by the end. “Doctor Mad” is shockingly devoid of energy and sounds a bit lazy. And while “Sweet Nothing” is a pretty, hypnotic closer, it could have used a bit more potency. Despite the weaknesses in spots, Melbourne comes together as something strangely original when it isn’t basically mimicking the lo-fi giants of today. The calling card for this album is Scott’s ability to tap into emotions through both his versatile voice and impressive instrumental control. He hasn’t put it all together yet, but the tools are there. Once the vision and organization of this project is refined a bit, Jackson Scott may give us something special.