Start From Scratch
Over the course of several physical and web-only albums, Milwaukee singer-songwriter Jay Flash has attempted to appeal to listeners’ rapidly expanding musical palates by consolidating his interests—both musically and intellectually—into something that resembles a conventional album, but exceeds its expectations in scope. His latest, Start From Scratch, is his most satisfying collection to date. And, like his other albums, it’s a challenging musical exploration of recent pop music history.
The album begins in the world of Animal Collective and Brian Wilson on opener “Littlefoot,” with a short, repetitive keyboard riff over field recordings of airplanes and heavily modified vocals. It soon moves to the palpable Eastern European influences of Beirut’s Zach Condon on the waltz “Put Your Thoughts To Sleep,” and eventually finds its way to atmospheric, menacing art-rock on “Civil.” As a whole it’s somewhat disorienting; Flash is at his best on his more subdued, folk-inspired tracks. The genre is a suitable vehicle for his ideological pursuits, and allows his influences to manifest themselves in subtle flourishes of production. “Tokugawan Agronomics” succeeds by tackling heavy socio-political analysis with a lighthearted narrative and melody that make it approachable, singing, “I am a Japanese farmer from the 18th century / I don’t expect any upwards social mobility / The Tokugawa are in power and they’ve sealed off the entire country / They made the shogun samurai the head of the military.” Elsewhere, “Subdued” and “Doublespeak” are sleepy, ’70’s folk-rock perfection. Penultimate track “Enigmatic,” meanwhile, is the sort of lofty crooner that makes you want to hear the whole album again.