Jonathan Townes

Kevin Fann January 30, 2007

A rock band out of Brooklyn, Sothen is all about frontman Jonathan Townes, who, not only produced, engineered, mixed and mastered the album, but wrote all fifteen tracks, as well.

That’s not to say bassist Chris Higgins and drummer Andy Sanesi don’t offer tremendous talent to the project; they do. This is, after all, a power trio band. What makes this album shine, though, is the mixing and post-production skill that Townes brings to the table.

Several tracks on “Lookat…” often begin with scene-setting intro material: a ringing telephone that gets answered or marching boots. Sometimes, more straightforward rock tracks bookend a one-minute instrumental track consisting mainly of pattern-forming feedback. It’s a story and mood setting. Although these conventions can seem gimmicky, Sothen manages to swim expertly between sonic emboss and no-frills rock, putting the band’s sound above so many acts who simply can’t brave these kinds of waters. Crafty, they are; damn seaworthy, even. Sothen aims to move you.

This album even dares to sail into balladry. Again, very impressive: a kind of balladry you can feel proud to hear, bold in its complexity without maudlin oversimplifications or goofy lyrics.

“End of the Summer,” for example, covers familiar territory for American songwriting. Ever since the Beach Boys first served up “Little Surfer Girl” on a hot dog bun, we’ve heard the obligatory lovesick anthem to August: usually, some kind of stale sugar snack. Not in this case, however:

Gone are the last days
Cool as the heat fades
End of the summer coming fast
Sing a new song
No more days long
End of the summer comes so fast…

Who can’t relate to this? Everyone. But, lucky for your self-respect, it’s wistfulness with power. The verse languishes like Morphine, the solo sounds almost like something out of a Neil Young and Crazy Horse album: a swirl of dark bass, booming drums, and high-octave guitar solo.

“theRed” is a tune between Pearl Jam and Kravitz, a driving rocker with a falsetto flourish and a grungy undertone. “Surprise” jumps and pops, incorporating some bar-pickup banter in the break. “I Can See” is a dark pounder with occasional thematic openings up in the clouds, when the music seems to shoot down in rays of light. Then, with nothing but the sound of acoustic strumming, “Happy” floats down in minor melodies, a leaf landing softly on the water’s surface after the storm:

I’m just waiting for the ‘happy’
Waiting for the other side
If I thought it’d turn out right
I’d stay here with you…

I guess the more I listen to Lookatchurself Reggie Measuresworth, the more I hear a Weezer or Foo Fighters influence, mixed with a little techish-emo, perhaps, minus any neurotic pretensions. I think the sound Jonathan Townes cultivates definitely has its roots in those soils. I think the album works and is worth several listens, even if you’re not currently on that post-grunge branch of the alt-rock tree. (I wasn’t, and I still liked it very much.)

For some reason, all of the members in the band assume aliases for this album (as they are listed on the back cover as “The Cast: Reggie Measuresworth, Loomuico Valdado, and Chulito del Fuego”). Perhaps that fact and the unwieldy album name hint at a story I’ve not yet put together. The work stands alone; if it does represent some greater narrative, then all the better for the band’s efforts.