JON JAMES is a one-man-band indie pop guy, and a talented one at that. The Fantasy etc. band is exactly that. His influences are fairly well assimilated, and there are not really any good comparisons to make, he's too much of an original. This is an excellent collection of well-crafted pop songs, lyrically smart and musically polished. The opener, "Turn It On/High on a Flashback," sets the tone perfectly, harkening back to the pre-teen James watching Don Kirschner's Rock Concert and playing alone on air guitar. With songs about speed queens ("Peppermint Covergirl") and Britney strip fantasies ("Peel It Off"), there's not a whiff of self-involved, whiny singer/songwriter music to be found. The title track's great, as is the closer, "Atom Bomb." With James handling most of the instruments himself, recorded at Minneapolis luminary D.B. Curtis' studio (Curtis also plays a bit), this is far better than most current self-played, self-produced records, which tend to have a flat sound and lack of objectivity about the finished product. In what's turning out to be a really terrific year for indie music, this is a good, solid debut work, and is well worth a listen or ten.
Kent H. Benjamin
(Issue #57, Fall/Winter 2003)
It's sort of refreshing when musicians don't place themselves above mainstream culture: "I'm trippin' on Don Kirschner/ spacin' out to the TV/ get my inspiration/ from a rock magazine". Okay, Don Kirschner's not exactly what everyone may consider a pop icon, but Jon James and the Trashcan Fantasy Dance Band throw out line after tongue-in-cheek line throughout their eleven song self-titled album: "Backseat lover/ I lost my cherry at 13/ Preacher's daughter/ While we're crankin' up the Queen." With their sugar-coated hooks, James and band find themselves inhabiting a space shared with the likes of Brendan Benson and Jason Falkner, two other smarty-pants singer songwriters.
"New King of Japan" is a rocking tour through Tokyo with the band: "Gather round/ if you're lookin' for a ride/ to the new downtown/ future sound/ hear the neon buzzin' by". "(So far) off Broadway" is the best Ryan Adams song to date that was not actually written by Ryan Adams, with a gorgeous melody telling the story of a "starry-eyed" girl who dreams of her name in big lights in the big city.
Things get glammy on "Peppermint Covergirl" and "Angie and The Trashcan Fantasy Danceband", then swing to rootsy alt-rock on "What Goes On?" and "Wheel of Time". "Gonna Find Her" could also be called "rootsy", as well as a little bit country (and a little bit rock and roll). The band finds their power-pop way on "American Dream (Television)" and "Atom Bomb".
"Peel It Off" is dedicated to Britney. Yes, that Britney: "Candy girl/ You're the cat's meow/ lollipop/ you're a trollop now". Alright. See, James and Trashcan Fantasies don't place themselves above pop-culture, therefore making it easier to take when they feel the need to comment on it. Pulling off a song dedicated to a very "now" superstar is hard; few who try succeed. Which might explain why very few try, besides James and Adam Green.
Jon James and The Trashcan Fantasy Danceband have got the sly, hook filled rock thing working in their favor. They can make a joke without making the music a joke. In lesser hands, the pop-culture references could sink an album, but here things work out just fine.
Lost At Sea Online
"I never believed in the fast track cuz life is just a dream, and I'm flyin' high on a flashback." There you have it, everything you needed to know about Jon James & The Trashcan Fantasy Danceband but were afraid to ask … Right. If like me you never let go of the classic rock fantasy that fuelled the 70s, Jon James is the man for you. Eclectic to a fault, the change in tone found on this excellent album will keep you guessing whilst the fine musicianship and well-crafted tracks will keep you distracted enough to never have to answer the big question. Who says you can't have your cake and eat it as well? In terms of modus operandi, one can compare James' ability to produce every note on this album to folks like Todd Rundgren and Jason Falkner, and certainly these artists provide relevant reference points. Songs like "Turn It On/High On A Flashback," "(So Far) Off Broadway," "Peppermint Covergirl" and "American Dream (Television)" are able to combine pop smarts (referencing styles from glam, blue-eyed soul, power pop, new wave, etc.) and a lyrical awareness that is both self-deprecating and humorous. A fine achievement any way you look at it.
Bucketfull of Brains [U.K.]
Ya gotta love a guy who puts a somewhat unflattering (but funny) photo of himself on the front of his debut ... even better, a pic with James' private parts obscured by a dog-eared "used $1.00" sticker. Who among us hasn't scoured local thrift stores for overlooked albums that fell between the critical cracks, and promise to make us rethink the past - although in James' case, the past is now. Actually, the past is more than a clever theme here, with an easygoing '70s Top 40 radio vibe that these 11 songs seek to resuscitate. Big guitar hooks and textures, from chiming 12 strings, to power chords, wah-wah solos, George Harrison-y slide and warm acoustics, are king of the mix, along with smooth and inviting vocals. The Trashcan Fantasy Danceband are, more or less, James on every instrument but the drums, although co-producer D.B. Curtis - a Minneapolis area live club sound veteran - adds sonic embellishments as needed, along with a few other tasteful friends.
Larry O. Dean
(Issue #39, Nov/Dec 2003)
Mr. James has made a neat and tidy guitar pop record with his self-titled release, Jon James and the Trashcan Fantasy Danceband. The production is slick, the mixes are safe and radio friendly and each song shines in a Weezer-like construction of pop gleam.
I often try to describe things in one word, and with James, the word that kept occurring to me while listening to the record was "competent." With the advent of so much user-friendly recording technology, we find ourselves in a state of perpetual crap in the music industry. No longer do people have to ask, "I can do this--but should I?" Luckily this is a question that can be largely ignored by James, who's songwriting ability is well showcased throughout the 11 song disc. He wisely puts "Turn It On/High on a Flashback" as the first track. As far as pop songs go this is a keeper with its dirty-yet-conservative guitar tones to its clever melody line which James' strong voice quips out effortlessly. I like the way his voice is able to slip nonchalantly into a soaring falsetto without a hitch or crack, a talent he uses sparingly yet effectively on "Flashback." Other high points include the countrified "Gonna Find Her" and the 70s-like anthem "Peppermint Covergirl." Oh, and don't forget to listen to the end of "American Dream (Television)." It has one of the most satisfying musical conclusions with its half-riff outro. It serves as that part in a song which forces you to listen over again, just to hear that ten seconds a second or third time.
This is actually my one complaint with the record. There are not enough of these moments (like the end of "American Dream"), causing an auditory atrophy in the listener. If the listener is not being continuously stimulated by the music it causes a loss of interest even if the music is good. In James' case, the music is good, if not great. He has some kick ass musicians on board, and whoever played the drums on this record is a god. However, the over all goodness of it is it's ultimate downfall. It's difficult to pick standout tracks because most of the tracks don't really standout from the others. I believe James' has made an album that requires more listens and more thought than a conventional pop album demands, which isn't bad. It's just risky. But if you enjoy straight forward, easy on the ear pop rock, then the risk is minimal. Pick up James' record and pay attention.
ALBUM OF THE MONTH - There's no doubt that there is being released a lot of really good independent music worldwide these days, but it doesn't happen very often that a self-released album actually is chosen as the album of the month from the 50 or thereabout CD's reviewed in every issue in Past and Present Music. There might have been self-released albums that have deserved that honor in the past, but it hasn't happened since we started choosing the album of the month. Until now, that is, as there's a first time for everything. Jon James and his band are just so deliciously nice and appealing that it is almost entirely impossible not to like them. They have a 70's rock sound to them, but they're not afraid to bring in influences from as different artists as David Bowie and Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers. Track one "Turn It On/High On Flashback" is one of the best songs I've heard all year, "New King Of Japan" is also ranking pretty high, and, well, so are the rest of the songs on this album. I love it. Enough said.
Hans Jakup Eidisgard
Past & Present Music [Denmark]
Jon James is a Minneapolis guitar player who has spent time in a number of local acts including Johnny Clueless. James recently released an exceptional new album titled "Jon James & the Trashcan Fantasy Danceband."
In reality, the Trashcan Fantasy Danceband is Jon James. Well actually, he doesn't do it all by himself, as James has a number of guests on the album including drummer Noah Levy, banjo and slide guitar player Dan Neale, and a couple St. Cloud-area musicians in Stacy Machula and D.B. Curtis. In fact, Curtis, who also is the sound guy at the Carpet, co-produced the disc.
I have a sneaking suspicion that this little pop rock gem of an album is going to end up among my favorite discs of the year. To sum it up, the release is an ambitious effort to create a fantasy rock album -- the type of thing most upstart rockers wouldn't dare touch.
But James dared and, most importantly, succeeded in creating a jewel. From the catchy opener "Turn It On/High on a Flashback" to the hilarious closer "Atom Bomb," James is untouchable.
And while his songwriting is not that of a master storyteller, he does have some great one-liners. For example, you have to love Amphetamine Maybelline, his character from "Peppermint Covergirl," as well as the line from "Atom Bomb," "You're an atom bomb; you're queen of the plutonium underground."
There are just so many good tunes here it is hard not to rave about them all, but I have to mention the anthem-like "New King of Japan," the slowed down "What Goes On?," the countrified "Gonna Find Her" and the striptease "Peel It Off." This little nugget is definitely an album to check out.
St. Cloud Times [Minnesota]
(May 22, 2003)
Jon James is well acquainted with the highly unglamorous lifestyle of a striving, workaday rock band. He's done time in several such bands over the years, but on his new solo album he suspends his disillusionment with the business of making music and embraces the sort of far-out rock star fantasies only a starry-eyed teenager could take seriously. James plays every instrument in his Trashcan Fantasy Danceband in an attempt to approximate the bright, arena-ready power pop he would make in the "dream band" he's never been able to assemble. James's fantasies are anachronistic in their vision of bombast and glamor; his dream band might have garnered attention in the mid-70s, but yesterday's radio-friendly sure thing is today's marginal nostalgia trip.
James mixes echoes of T. Rex, Bowie, Cheap Trick and Peter Frampton into sugary pop anthems that sound, if not fresh, at least spirited and smart. He kicks off the album with "High On A Flashback", which shamelessly cops the music and guitar solo from Tom Petty's "Won't Back Down". It's a catchy song, but James doesn't quite deserve the credit. "New King of Japan" comes complete with Budokan-like crowd noise and swaggering Cheap Trick guitars. The lyrics, in keeping with the wish fulfillment theme, deal with the imaginary stardom and excesses of James's imaginary band.
The prettiest and most inspired song on the album is "(So Far) Off Broadway" -- charming mid-tempo pop with an instantly memorable chorus. It's one of the few times James fully conveys the grandeur of his fantasy. More often the songs don't quite gel into anything convincing. "Peppermint Covergirl", for instance, sounds like a parody of glam rock. Ditto "Angie & The Trashcan Fantasy Band", which aims for Bowie-style high concept posturing but lacks the hooks or charisma to pull it off. "Peel It Off" and "American Dream (Television)" fare much better -- they're as bright and catchy as they intend to be. "Peel It Off" in particular is sweet and soaring and capable of standing up to repeat listening.
The album as a whole merits multiple plays. James's fantasies might not eclipse the reality of their influences, but they're certainly dreams worth dreaming.