Jack Conte -VS4
Record Label: Shadowtree
Release Date: March 23, 2011
If you don't know Jack Conte by name, don't worry, you're one of many. You may know him better as the "guy doing all of those instruments" in the phenomenon that is Youtube's musical duo, Pomplamoose. He has risen to internet fame through Youtube with the help of a medium he has helped pioneer, the VideoSong. A VideoSong is, as Conte puts it, "a new medium with 2 rules: 1. What you see is what you hear (no lip-syncing for instruments or voice). 2. If you hear it, at some point you see it (no hidden sounds). This transparent way of showing listeners the inner-workings of his songs has made Conte a very unique and curious artist. Totally do it yourself, he records and produces his music himself, under his label of one, Shadowtree. Such is the origins of Conte's latest LP, VS4 (VideoSongs 4). While it has been well established Conte is a very capable musician in a variety of instrumentation, the generally empty lyrics and somewhat average tracks make this album feel like its stretched out 8 tracks worth of content over 15 tracks. Sadly, the entire album suffers as a result.
Nearly dissapeared are Conte's electronica roots, that his previous EPs, Nightmares and Daydreams and Sleep in Color, consist of. Instead, several styles are employed throughout. Songs such as "Make the Grade," "Off With His Head," and "I Wonder Where the Moments Go" are made up almost completely of Conte's piano playing, with some string and wind instrumental accompaniment courtesy of Conte's associates. Others, such as "The Time Has Come" have a disturbing, demented carnival theme to them, creating an unsettling atmosphere. Half-way through, Conte also employs some straight up rock, with his heavier tracks "Only Dreaming" and "Get It Out." This mish-mash of vastly different styles do not help the album as a whole; it lacks cohesion. This is due to the track list feeling slapped together, giving the album no sense of flow, with songs such as "Mister Moneybags," while a goofy, fun track, not feeling like it belongs.
LS4's tracks are short, the longest peaking at 3:23 with "Long Long Time Ago." Not that there's much to warrant the tracks being longer, though. The lyrics, with a few exceptions, are simple, repeatative, and oftentimes, boring. There is little substance here, leaving little to return to after an initial listen.
However, not all is lost. There are a few stand-out tracks that will warrant return listens. Conte gets his Beatles on with two tracks in particular, the aforementioned "Long Long Time Ago," and the catchy "Mercenaries." The former is the finest display of lyricism on the album, showing Conte does have lyrical chops when the situation calls for it, giving a simple but compelling narrative. The latter, "Mercenaries," is a light sonic romp that, while consisting of the same repetetive writing as most of the album, will remain stuck in listeners' heads long after the albums ended, thanks to its enjoyable emulation of the Fab Four. One of Conte's rockier offerings, "Get It Out" will do its job of getting the blood pumping with Conte's servicable shrieks and pervasive guitar riffs. Finally, the second to last track, "Push It" brings back just a hint of Conte's so-called "Electronic Acoustica" past, and is easily the strongest standalone track on the album.... But at a measly 2:10, it is far, far too short.
As a fan and admirer of Jack Conte, its difficult to listen to this album and know what he is capable of, but feel it noticably miss its potential. Conte has proven that he has the know-how and instrumental prowess many major-label musicians can only dream about. However, VS4 is not an album that can stand on its own merits. With overly-simplistic lyrics, frustratingly empty-sounding songs and a compulsive track listing and order that is unable to evoke any emotions due to its rapid style-changes, the album stands as a noble failure. Where the album is strong, it is very strong; however, this happens far too sparsely. Hopefully Conte will continue to push his craft even further in the future to bring forth a truly fantastic product. Until then, VideoSongs for every track on VS4 will be released every two weeks on Conte's Youtube channel, allowing listeners to see what goes on behind the curtain.