Jack Name’s Light Show is shadow music. The outline is familiar but the insides are dark and unknowable. From certain angles, the shape distorts into a giant’s proportions. From others vantages, the shadow dwindles. “I could be anybody/ God knows I’ve got my shadow,” sings John Webster Adams, the man behind the see-through moniker of Jack Name. He proves this claim, in sound at least: Name’s debut, Light Show, is an unbridled sonic zig-zag. Light Show was released on God?, Ty Segall’s imprint for Drag City Records, and Adams has toured with Tim Presley as a live guitarist for White Fence. It’s appropriate to file this Jack Name material into the Segall/Presley extended family–the music is guitar based with a 1960s flavor; echo and fuzz abound. However Adams is unafraid to get weird, to deconstruct and explode his own rock and roll lineage.
Light Show never sits still, and Adams navigates his many and varied musical ideas with dream-like fluidity. The tracks go by quickly, often without giving way to verse-chorus song form, and this pace has a destabilizing effect. Chords tend to drone hypnotically or grow dissonant against a simple riff. The opener “My Own Electric Ladyland” features steely, fuzz guitars that build arpeggios into a dissonant, stuttering climax. A relatively conventional rock and roll number like “Do the Shadow” is turned off-kilter by Adams’ pitched up, distended vocal that sounds like it’s about to go pop. The effect is both campy and nightmarish. In fact, it’s difficult to get a real sense of what Adams’ voice sounds like until the 5th track, “New Guitars,” where his seemingly unaffected pipes sing a warm, memorable hook that takes the edge off an overall frenetic A-side. “New Guitars” turns out to be a minute long fragment-turned-intro for the album’s natural single, “Pure Terror,” which is Light Show’s most song-ish number and has the strongest harmonic resolution. A strummy acoustic guitar backdrop and ubiquitous fuzz guitar stir up a glam-rock vibe a la Marc Bolan–”Pure Terror” lets you feel comfortable for 3 minutes, at least, of this shadow play. In some ways Light Show seems like one giant song-collage, and “Pure Terror” is the kernel. The following track is a minute-long, brutal outburst where sputtering electronics vie with a thrashing, descending guitar figure… but otherwise the B-side is a chill come-down, one that ends with the dirge-like “Killing a Shadow.”
Adams has cited kids on study drugs as an influence for Light Show, challenging the concept of “chemical imbalance” and saying “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with those kids. There’s something wrong with the world.” However, the shadow is a potent symbolic concept, an archetypal stand-in for the alter-everything, life that escapes outer consciousness. Shadow is loosely personified in Light Show through a narrative of shadows in danger of being filled with light by no-good “woolly bullies.” The linearity of this story arc is the most consistent element in Light Show, hanging a neat beginning, middle, and end around a mess of sounds and song-form experiments. Individuality and nonconformity are themes in play here, but specifically Adams is hashing out the individual’s relationship to his shadow–is it yin-yang type of relationship we humans have with our shadow-selves? Or is the relationship more akin to an iceberg revealing its topmost point above water?
Jack Name is conceptually committed to negative space, undefined and blacked out. But for all of the obfuscation here, Light Show is an exactingly detailed studio composition. Call it an attention deficit electro-rock opretta for the bedroom–but tracks like “Sound Was the Castle” and “Light Show” recall a different sort of concept album, like Joe Meek’s “outer space music fantasy” I Hear a New World. Meek’s compositions speculated at the music of space (or, the negative space around planet Earth), and I think it is not unkind to call Jack Name’s Light Show speculative rock music for the psyche. words/a spoto