By Beau Mansfield
John Calvin Abney on Instagram just the other day modeled, at a beach somewhere, a simple light-blue one-piece country dress and what I think was a pearl earring. Some of his tattooed left arm was visible. I don’t think there was any intentional humor in it, nor did it strike me as unintentionally funny. I just thought, “Hmm, JCA is wearing a dress.” Very much like the one my ex-girlfriend lent me for a wild west murder mystery party I went to once. (I played the bearded lady in the circus that arrives in town on the train.) Come to think of it, I don’t think that was very like JCA’s beach photo at all. But whatever the case, I do know it takes a lot of guts. My reason was silly. His might not be.
Although JCA is getting more and more deliciously famous because he is so consistently tasteful, and Jarvix isn’t modelling anything, the latter is definitely taking his own artistry to the next level with the incredible new EP, An Exorcism, much of that step up due to his getting very real about body dysmorphia, gender issues and spiritual damage. I enjoy JCA, but there is a melancholy to his vibe. For my personality, I hunger after a new Jarvix release. One or two have been a bit too sad for me–literally, I cry and cry, I can’t make it through–but none of this EP is like that for me.
I want to leave some of it for the listener to have as a surprise, but I will say the whole thing should be beheld in one sitting.
It’s about the length of one side of an old LP. It’s only too short because I love so much of it.
Even the few parts I think remind me eerily of minimalism, a style I tend to inherently distrust, are brief; they feel like they are there, and actively do things, even in their relative monotony, for an illustrative reason.
Jarvix has previous experience in rap. This is an incredibly eclectic pop record, but it has in common with rap its stylistic elements of 1) extreme (though by no means necessarily excessive) moments of loquacity and 2) making the production and/or arrangement shifts be both sharp-turner-corning and smooth at once.
It should also be heard in headphones for the full effect.
Jarvix is the polar opposite of everything stereotypical about an Oklahoman singer-songwriter. He’s a pop guy, not remotely connectable to blues or country, and I think that ends up being some kind of strike against him with venues and festivals, even when they seem at first to be interested in him. He attracts notice for many things, including a playful collaboration with the audience that is less drunken banter with drunks and more collective joy enhancement. On a non-theatrical level, he doesn’t, and his lyrics don’t, reinforce wretchedly outdated gender role expectations, and that is a huge part of why I love him. Also the fact that he has oodles of straight-up whimsy, even when talking about basically wanting to cut off his dick and throw it in the trash.
Jarvix–or at least the narrating character of the songs–seems to be at least partially disgusted by his genitalia, and happens to say so quite outrightly while in the course of a climactic (so to speak) ska number.
I’ll get back to why that alone is hilarious, but first, I want to say, although it’s possible that Jarvix’s new EP explores existential issues through the metaphor of the body, “The Ballad of Broke Dick” seems thoroughly literal. It’s also by far the most disturbing song to me, but the crazy thing is that it’s more disturbing because of how Jarvix chose to record and sing it than because he seems to be saying that his penis is literally too small to function normally, i.e., in intercourse or through massage, the “curse of dysmelia,” that last of which sent me to dictionary.com.
(Indeed, in the aforementioned album-ender ska tune, Jarvix says the only thing that gets him off is “hard fellation,” which would normally sound both awkward and, well, awkward, but it’s in the course of such a ridiculously peppy Bro-style arrangement and harmonic pattern that it flies right by. Plus, goofy and cheerful as the tune is, Jarvix is dismayed by this deviation from the norm he would prefer to have as his own life; it’s the furthest imaginable thing from some proudly dominant male freak/kink manifesto.)
No, what’s disturbing about “Broke Dick” is that Jarvix a) recorded it with just a very plain acoustic rhythm guitar accompaniment (somewhat like I did on my song, “Time To Move My Car,” which he positively reviewed once), and b) he pronounces parts wackily, if subtly so. So is Jarvix goofing on…what? A real situation? Or the metaphor of equipment that doesn’t perform as wished?
Jarvix is virtually alone in making me wonder about these things. John Grant wasn’t talking about this stuff exactly, but he is the only person of whom I am aware that gets even close. I wonder what Jarvix is up to on occasion on this EP, but I will happily roll with some moments of artful ambiguity, especially in light of its almost complete open-heartedness and its attempt to wrestle very hard with toxic masculinity, as well as the kind of beautifully semi-symmetrical rhythms, melodies and chord progressions Andy Partridge might come up with through the lens of a ukulele player. Jarvix just gets better at that all the time.
But like I said, there was JCA in a dress. So an interesting conversation is beginning to be had. I hope Jarvix starts to be appreciated more than he currently is.
P.S.: Ska was once a Caribbean thing, then a British thing, then finally what I think it is fair to say is an American frat boy thing. So for such a genre–featuring that most particularly penile of horns, the trombone–to have such lyrics of apparent disgust with having a penis is, to me, really brilliantly funny, indeed. But maybe you had to be there.
Listen to the EP below: