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Review: Jesse Ruins’ Dream Analysis

Someone out there in Twitter’s hyper-short content wasteland decided to make an account for Jandek, the Texas recluse who has spent 30 years recording music from his house in Houston. The accounts a fake, but one that serves as a nice reminder of how much the musical world has changed in a dozen years. Jandek spent the majority of his career shrouded in mystery, only giving two interviews during that time, and when he decided to go public he did it only through live shows. Today, an artist can’t be nearly as mysterious. To keep up with the blog-buzz cycle, they need to release new tracks and remixes and videos all the time, unless they want some other kid with time to burn to sneak into their spot on Gorilla Vs. Bear. They also need to communicate directly with fans, via Twitter and Tumblr and SoundCloud and probably Pinterest. In college, I knew someone who chatted with Dan Deacon over Facebook and knew a bunch of the dude’s personal likes.

Jesse Ruins doesn’t try to be Jandekian – the Captured Tracks bio gives away both members names, and a little Googling can tell you where at least one of their hometowns is – yet many continue to imagine the duo shrouded in fog. At one point, I wouldn’t blame anyone for being dumbfounded by the identity of Jesse Ruins – my earliest writings about them are full of instances of “mysterious” as an adjective and wondering if the person making this music were a man or a woman. Now, though, everything you need to know can be found in a few seconds. Yet blogs and reviews of Jesse Ruin’s debut EP for Captured Tracks, Dream Analysis, continue to see the band as a phantom entity.

I understand why they would, though. The sounds Jesse Ruins create warrant all the uses of “dark” and “shadowy,” one part dance music and one part Capture-Tracks-loved 80’s pop mixed into a sonic steam that sounds like no specific time period. I’m sure the “from Japan” aspect plays a big role in it too. Yet I think a large part of why people latch onto this narrative is because the blog-driven music scene of today demands interesting stories alongside the music. See Bon Iver in a cabin, or Girls emerging from a traumatic cult, or Lana Del Rey everything – for Jesse Ruins, the hook is “mystery” and that has helped them get attention from various online publications. That’s the way of the blog-driven music world today.

Thing is, Jesse Ruins don’t need to be surrounded by fog machines – the music sounds good enough on its own that it should be the center of attention. The Dream Analysis EP serves as a sonic handshake, an introduction to the sounds of one of Japan’s most promising outfits today. For folks who have been following Jesse Ruins for awhile, the majority of material on Dream Analysis isn’t new – blogged-about tunes like the title track, “Inner Ambient” and “Sofia” appear – although having them all in one place on a physical record is reason to celebrate. For those fans, this is just warm-up ahead of a longer release later in the year. For everyone else, here’s great music that doesn’t need a gimmick.

Dream Analysis showcases the basic structure of a Jesse Ruins’ song well during its half-hour playtime. They pile bright synths on top of drum machine and bass, adding in (sometimes distorted) vocals deeper into the mix, giving the songs the feel of a dream. Yet Jesse Ruins also shroud these songs with touches of darkness that turn them into slightly uncomfortable visions, like seeing a sudden movement in the kitchen late at night. “In Icarus” would be a bubbly bit of pop if it weren’t for the growling bass lurking on the underbelly of the whole song, turning what could have been a bright production into something being loomed over. Same goes for “A Bookshelf Sinks Into The Sand,” which at times feel seconds away from being consumed by noise, or “I Knew It.” Most of the songs on this EP feel haunted by some sort of spirit.

M83 has become the popular comparison for Jesse Ruins, and listening to bright-eyed tracks like “Shatter The Jewel” and “Inner Ambient” make that ring true. Yet it’s also a little misleading – Jesse Ruins don’t sound like the M83 of last year’s bloated Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, but rather the moodier stuff of that group’s Before The Dawn Heals Us. Even then, Dream Analysis avoids the anthemic in favor of shadowier territory, the clear vocals of M83 replaced by distant murmurings on Jesse Ruins’ music. If M83 pays tribute to the 80’s, Jesse Ruins looks back and sees a lot of murkiness amongst the nostalgia.

There are many more things I could say about Jesse Ruins – like how Dream Analysis gathers music that really matched the Japanese national mood post March 11th, to the point they appeared in a Pharrell-centric documentary about the tragedy – but I’ve written plenty on these songs before. Regardless of whether you know what Jesse Ruins favorite drink is or you run with the mystery narrative, Dream Analysis is a fine release serving as both a great look back and a nice introduction. Buy here or get on iTunes.