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Jesse Noll's "Throwing Shadows"

It blends folk and blues almost effortlessly

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Jesse Noll is a 31-year-old native of the Pacific Northwest who creates music in the vein of both blues and folk. Noll, at the time of this writing, is ranked number 1 in the Pacific Northwest in the genre of indie, blues, and folk on Reverbnation, and has amassed a strong following. After three years of recording, Noll celebrated the official release with the completion of his debut EP, Throwing Shadows. ?Three years is a long time to record, but it seems that Noll crammed as much as he could into that lengthy production time. Throwing Shadows is an excellent demonstration of Noll's sound. His MO, which blends folk and blues almost effortlessly, results in an interesting trip into both genres. The production of the EP's five tracks exhibit a particular fine quality that is scarcely found amongst local artists. The production done by Daniel Stoutt Stout truly allows Noll to form a sound of his own creation, and there is not a croon or note that feels out of place or sub par.

The EP uses a diverse set of instrumentation to create its overall sound. The album highlight, the eponymous title track "Throwing Shadows," begins with a rather gorgeous Western violin backed by the soft hints and touches of a light piano creating a unique introduction to an interesting bluesy track. For the most part, the EP has a heavy focus on Noll's acoustic guitar. Nevertheless, he is not alone. Noll is accompanied by a full, self-recorded backing band, and the addition of drums and baroque instrumentation is a very welcome touch, and gives each track on the EP its own presence. The only truly questionable moment of the five tracks comes in the form of the closing track, "High All Night," which forsakes the EP's quiet blues influenced folk music for a straight grungy rocker complete with heavily distorted electric guitar. To end the EP in this manner contradicts the melancholy tone and mood of the work as a whole with a track that doesn't really go anywhere, and can't really seem to find its meaning and purpose.

However, Throwing Shadows weakest aspect is also its most important: the lyrics.  Amongst his influences, Noll highlights Beck as a personal favorite and an idol. But, Noll does not share Beck's unique ability to create abstract imagery and stories with his lyrics, and many of the pictures that Noll attempts to paint are simply unclear or at their worst, uninteresting. The exception may be the standout song, "White Chocolate," which shows hints of what he could be capable of. In it, Noll imagines himself walking hand in hand with his love down the street on their way to dinner.  The track has a unique feeling akin to classic songs such as Led Zeppelin's "Going to California," as both Robert Plant and Noll continually think about moving elsewhere in search of happiness and love in the forms of women that do not resemble their own. However, a majority of the other tracks on the EP simply lack the life needed to imbue the lyrics with a sense of purpose. At their worst, they fail to inspire emotion, and to a bluesman, this is detrimental.

On the upside, Noll is a gifted vocalist who wears his blues influences on his sleeve well. His voice is honest, and he bears a strong, if rougher, resemblance to fellow Pacific Northwest native Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes. The life and energy lacking in the lyrics is found in Noll's voice, as each croon and cry is filled with an emotional punch that will grip the listener where his storytelling abilities and lyrical prowess may not.

Noll is a gifted musician; there is no doubt about that, and Throwing Shadows is a great listen for those interested in the world of local folk music. What is good on this EP, is quite good. But with "Throwing Shadows" its clear that Noll has a healthy amount of room left to grow.

Comments for "Jesse Noll's "Throwing Shadows"" (2)

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Harrison said on Dec. 20, 2012 at 7:38pm

Being Jesse Noll’s first release, Throwing Shadows is a snapshot of the diversity Jesse is capable of delivering. From the intimate minimalist picture painted in “White Chocolate” and the jangly tongue and cheek full arrangement of “Jenny Said”, to the grungy blues riff based rock ‘n roll of “High All Night”… this is just a taste of Jesse’s intentions as an eclectic individual, writer and musician. I find the reviewer is missing the point behind Jesse's lyrical style that allows him to transcend the labels of tradition folk and blues into the territory of indie rock/pop. If you put on this record expecting to hear bluesy folk singer songwriter style arrangements with predictable storyteller lyrics, you might be confused or disappointed. Instead, you will hear simple to the point thoughts and images that maintain a level of vagueness that appeals to a person’s memories and emotions. Jesse’s lyrics make me feel as if I was singing along to the song about my own life. When you hear his words they will remind you of the way you felt when… fill in the blanks. Also note the misspelling of producer credit Daniel Stout.

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Esme said on Dec. 20, 2012 at 8:02pm

This is the type of thoughtful review that is rarer these days in Northwest music criticism. This record is amazing, and although it may seem lacking in the lyric department the first couple of listenings, the listener inevitably begins to see the lyrical style as an idiosyncratic innovation rather than a weakness. And one more thing, while most people familiar with the current PDX music scene are familiar enough with Daniel Stout's recording expertise--and his eclectic studio where this album was produced--Contris doesn't seem to fully give credit where credit is due. Contris, you should do a bit more homework and get the name spelling right, at least out of respect.

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