Let me get this out of the way: Jim Noir's Tower of Love is the most ear-pleasing album of the year. Let me get this out of the way as well: It has been out (in Britain) since last year. The Barsuk American release, which contains two extra tracks, is going to send it over the tipping point, in the same way that the Postal Service's Give Up exploded after it pretty much sat there like unopened junk mail for about a year, or the way Arcade Fire's Funeral caught fire after the Pitchfork review. Yeah, it's like that.
The opening track, "My Patch," immediately reveals his Brian Wilsonesque tendencies, with short piano and vocal pulses harmonizing underneath the repeating "If you ever step on my patch, I'll bring you down, bring you down." After a short pause, the beats come in to give the song the feel of a light remix of a Beach Boys song. But the thing that tops it all off is what sounds like a children's guitar, all out of tune, with no sustain, which doesn't diminish its shine, but adds a certain innocence and brings the song even closer to perfection. It's like he built a lush song around a recording of the first time you ever tried to play guitar.
I Me You I'm Your (mp3) keeps the melodic momentum, but the acoustic guitar slyly strums itself into prominence. The vocal harmonies are spellbinding.
The Key of C is, again, melodic showboating, but Noir knows when to interrupt the ecstacy with the tone of an old music box, and how to heighten it with the unexpected electric guitar, heavy on the wah. Crazy, man.
You'll see other reviews calling these songs sunshine-y, bright, shimmery, luminous, bubblegum, psychedelic summery pop and whatnot, but don't buy into that so fast. Noir, after all, is French for Black. My Patch seems to be a self-pitying lament about personal isolationism. Computer Song might be about the failings of technology, but it might also be about the inherent unreliability in everything. In Key of C, he sings "I want to be/in the key of C/It's easier to play it." Something so familiar, so stable, something that the singer can't be because he wavers.
The quality of the songs on Tower of Love doesn't waver, though. The rest of the CD is as brilliant as the tracks posted here. They'll find their way to a large audience.
Tower of Love is due out 8 Aug 06. Sign up for the pre-release here.