FLASH IN THE PAN by Gum
Genre: Psychedelic Rock
Favorite Tracks: “Flash in the Pan,” “Gemini,” “Deep Razz,” “Heatwave”
According his Instagram bio, Australia’s resident goofball and multi-instrumentalist Jay Watson’s musical allegiance is split between three different psychedelic powerhouses: Gum, Pond, and Tame Impala. Gum is the moniker under which Jay Watson creates solo music, while Pond and Tame Impala are collaborative projects held together by a revolving line-up, the latter being captained by indie starlet, Kevin Parker. With that being said, Watson has something to prove in stepping away from the inarguably larger shadows of his other bands. He’s already done so twice in rapid succession with DELOREAN HIGHWAY (2014) and GLAMOROUS DAMAGE (2015), and both of them were respectable showcases of Watson’s ability to hold his own amongst his peers as a songwriter and producer. Gum’s third LP, FLASH IN THE PAN, only further solidifies the argument that Watson is a talented musician in his own right, and 2016 now marks the year that he returned to Earth with his phasers set to “groove”.
“Flash in the Pan” is a heavenly title track and opener that acts as a reality-bending, palette-cleansing introduction to the alien space in which the rest of the album exists: outside of your droll regular life, and inside of the surreal. Upon completing “Gemini,” the second track, I was convinced that I might be stepping into my favorite album of the year. Watson shows control and poise in the production of his sonic soundscapes and an amusing sense of curiosity when it comes to experimenting with effects and tone. His vocals are washed out, his synths swell and soar, and he has enough delay to feed an entire village of reverb-hungry children. His falsetto cuts through retro grooves with the swagger and sexuality of Prince, while lazier vocal leads drown under layers of vocal processing and modulation, making for a refreshingly nostalgic sounding trip through space.
Standout songs such as “Deep Razz” are able to provide a certain intensity that complement the contrasting crystal-clear production quality, while also taking advantage of lo-fi vintage synth patches and drum machines that sound directly out of a Game Boy Color. The mishmash of trippy sounds on display are diverse and unexpected, showing a childlike lack of restraint that populates the far-out universe of FLASH IN THE PAN with chaotic amounts of color and style. The rest of the album displays the same sense of wonder and creativity, but cruises in the sense that there are very few musical climaxes. However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing — the entire appeal of the track “Heatwave” is that it’s a two minute interlude that steps back from the rest of the album to catch its breath. It doesn’t go anywhere, and after it builds up, it fades out, leaving the listener pleasantly entranced in the short detour Gum leads them on.
A lot of what is on display is Watson’s creativity as a producer more so than a musician. If there’s one thing that this album excels in, it’s flavor. At no point does the album lose its glossy sheen, bright textures, sugary synths, or playful tones, adding another production trick with each song, being it autotune, talkbox, reverse guitar solos, or a feature from the sexy sax man. The problem is that the album sticks to that formula of coerced weirdness, somehow managing to let it take priority over songwriting. Watson can only rest on these tonal manipulations for so long until it becomes apparent that he has no other tricks up his sleeve. Although danceable and agreeable music, it isn’t catchy enough to leave you with any standout choruses stuck in your head, isn’t introspective enough to leave you with any real thematic resolve, and isn’t well written enough to keep you compelled for the duration of it.
The aesthetic of wavy, warbly synths begins as an eclectic and captivating motif, but soon feels like a resource exhausted at the end of a 41-minute laser trip through the 1980s —seriously, I developed two independent coke addictions during the duration of both “Deep Heat” and “Don’t Let Time Get You Down.” It’s a harsh criticism, but the second half of this album proves to be relatively unfulfilling in comparison to how promising of a start it had. Songs lose their zest and begin to feel like deflated tributes to the come down that follows a high — lethargy and a lack of immediacy present in both. The songs are pretty good, but sadly, pretty good doesn’t pay for the mansion, or propel you into mainstream success. For what it’s worth though, Watson seems too focused on building and nourishing his own musical world to internalize how people receive it.
FLASH IN THE PAN is not revolutionary. It will not be forever revered and studied as a magnum opus of an album, but that’s because the standard for an album within the genre has already been set (I would personally argue the likes of LONERISM by Tame Impala). But with that being said, FLASH IN THE PAN’s highs are still pretty high, and even its lows are still within the stratosphere of what can be considered delightfully pensive dance music. The reality of the situation is that Kevin Parker has cornered the market for modern psychedelic rock and dance music such that anything tangentially derivative of it will have a hard time stacking up. However, that doesn’t make Gum’s third release, FLASH IN THE PAN, any less of a pretty spectacle to behold on its own.