Jackson Scott’s ascent was familiar: A raw, enigmatic personality unassumingly shares a few homespun tracks on the internet. The music resonated in the ears of the right tastemakers and seemingly overnight, the previously unknown artist was crowned indie’s latest brilliant prodigy. Following this exposure, music enthusiasts turned to Google, desperate to learn more. Unfortunately, because their interest was spontaneous, the amount of information disseminated for Jackson Scott was sparse, thus leaving fans dumbfounded and wondering: Who exactly is Jackson Scott?
Now inked to Fat Possum, and hyped as a psych-tinged ’90s revivalist, we now know that Jackson Scott is a 20-year-old college-dropout living and recording in Asheville, North Carolina. On his highly anticipated debut LP, Melbourne, Scott serves up an eclectic, woozy singer-songwriter songs that draw inspiration from hallowed landmarks like Nevermind, Either/Or and Loveless. Similar to other bedroom projects, Melbourne finds Scott experimenting with fuzzed-out production techniques, impressionistic lyrics about girls and isolation, grunge inspired guitars and a trusty 4-track recorder.
Melbourne’s opener, “Only Eternal,” is a 90 second “Loomer”-esque, syrupy ambient drone that transports listeners back to a time where Scott’s music wouldn’t be considered nostalgic, but inventive—if you shut your eyes you can almost picture the innocent intimacy of that distant pre-smartphone era. Scott is most impressive when he tiptoes the fine threshold between complete 90’s revivalism and innovation. Sure, “That Awful Sound” consists of whispery vocals, ear-pleasing harmonies and acoustic strumming that starkly resembles Elliott Smith, but the song’s deviant ending is vibrant, loud and ferocious. Despite its playful pop melody, the beautifully crafted “Sandy” carries grisly undertones about last year’s Sandy Hook massacre. Intentionally pitched-up and nasally, Scott’s pubescent vocals lend “Sandy” a chilling quality—it’s almost as if the track is being sung by one of the tragedy’s victims. It’s both cathartic and haunting.
Despite these powerful moments, Melbourne contains tracks that find difficulty reconciling Scott’s desire to coddle his influences with his compulsion to forge an identity. It’s not that the album’s other material is bad; it simply feels half-baked and, therefore, fails to excite. “Doctor Mad” paces eerily with reverb-drenched guitars and a sluggish tempo, resembling shoegaze titans My Bloody Valentine. However, the track lacks the unique and stimulating drama that makes Scott’s bests works definitively his: The melody is forgettable, the lyrics are vague, and the accompaniment is typical. Similarly, while “Any Way” does captivate with its jangly riff and Bradford Cox-inspired melody, those with a voracious appetite for the creative and pioneering will find it all too familiar. Sadly, there are too many emotionally and conceptually lukewarm tracks that pace Melbourne, rather than drive it forward. These filler songs hinder the prodigious Scott from landing the earth shattering blows tracks like “That Awful Sound” indicate he’s capable of.
On Melbourne’s closer “Sweet Nothing,” Scott whispers, “I see you now, we’ll feel no pain where we’re going.” But, like those initial Google searches, I still don’t have a confident grasp of whom Jackson Scott is or where he’s trying to take me. The hype experienced by budding artists like Scott can be unsettling. Generally, it elicits polarizing reactions: listeners are either staunch supporters or fervent detractors. Seldom is there an in-between. In spite of that, after digesting Scott’s debut LP, in-between is exactly where I feel.