Courtesy of Satanic Panic Recordings
Paradise Lost, the fifth album by John Jagos as Brothertiger, owes inspiration to both the over-the-top drums and synths of 80s pop music and the sweeping soundscapes of late aughts chillwave.
Having already covered a classic 80s album on Brothertiger Plays: Tears For Fears’ Songs from the Big Chair, the Ohio-born, Brooklyn-based musician now presents an original tribute to the golden age of synth pop with a 56-minute LP full of crisp snares, robotic keys, reverb-drenched chorus melodies and a few well-placed bongos rhythms.
Despite being an early contributor and definer of the chillwave movement, Jagos continues to progress beyond the genre’s defining aesthetics such as echoey vocals buried in the mix, dense, hazy walls of sound and, at the style’s worst, garbled stonerish lyrics.
Jagos’s lyrics which encompass everything from love to complacency can be easily deciphered and their introspective nature gives the songs an added sense of purpose. Jagos often uses natural imagery and metaphors to paint a concrete picture in the listener’s mind, preventing any song from becoming too vague. Ocean imagery dominates the New York-nodding “Mainsail” and the turbulent “Shelter Cove” while forest treetops set the stage for the whistling love song “My Canopy.” The wide-eyed opener, “Found,” even features a few animal samples.
Along with soul-searching numbers and love songs, Paradise Lost also has its share of feel-good dance tunes. “Cannonball” offers R&B-flavored rhythms and vocals that could’ve been lifted straight from an 80s synth pop ballad. “Cannonball/Right into the mist/Are with me/Will you follow me,” Janos asks the song’s unknown muse.
A few songs later, the chorus of album highlight, “Checking Out,” provides the single most infectious hook on the LP with Jagos reflecting on his musical journey in lyrics such as, “How many years have I put down/Opening doors/Running around.” Those songs, along with the late introduction of electric guitar on the seventh track, “Swing,” keep the nearly hour long release fresh and engaging for its duration.
But, although most of Paradise Lost is masterfully layered by a veteran musician, some instrumental elements miss their marks and prevent several songs from rising to the likes of “Cannonball” or “Checking Out.” Jagos’ heavy vocal processing on “Shelter Cove” gives the song a synthetic, overproduced feel.
Likewise, the bouncing kick drum on “Pyre” distracts from the track’s superior melodic focus that shakes off any hints of chillwave. Further, Paradise Lost comes off, at times, more like a collection of songs rather than a cohesive and overarching thematic statement, inviting more scrutiny to each individual song as being its own entity.
Detractions aside, Paradise Lost, for the most part, succeeds in its nostalgic, spaced-out ambition. The climactic title track which closes the album seems to sum up all that comes before it in the knowing lines, “Fantasize a place I’ve never been/When I close my eyes and open them again.”
With thoughtful combinations of lush and direct synths, Jagos animates sonic atmospheres — both warm and cool, synth pop and chill wave — while adding a human touch to largely electronic pieces. Revolving heavily around introspection, Paradise Lost allows listeners to lose themselves in trains of thought while the world continues to go on around them.