The first thing to know about Juffage is that is a solo act and the one and only person behind it is Jeff T. Smith. This fact alone puts any listener’s perception of his music into a slightly different perspective, and most definitely leaves them positively surprised. The second thing that comes in handy while listening to his debut album ‘Semicircle’ is his musical background – Smith is often described as ‘from Leeds, via Chicago, Illinois’. The experience he gained in the best recording studios in Chicago combined with his degree in Computer Music from Leeds send a clear message that this guy’s knowledge and passion for music is more than impressive.
All who know me know how I like albums to be consistent and conceptual. And so is the case here, with songs merging one into another to the point when you catch yourself surprised that it’s almost the end of the album and you haven’t really felt a moment of an interlude. Taking into account Juffage’s background, to me ‘Semicircle’ is a bit of an homage to different types, genres, artists in music. It’s almost like a show off piece that demonstrates how one person can take that heritage and reinterpret it entirely on their own, playing every single instrument.
The overall tone of the album is very melancholic, creating the feel of a sentimental journey. It’s all down to his trade mark multi-layered harmonies and vocals. The whole album sounds ‘like a damaged farewell tape dug out from post-apocalyptic rubble‘ (Beardrock). The nostalgia begins with the first title track ‘Semicircle’, a long stretched, personal and beautifully sad song. Next one up, ‘120/240’ brings to mind both Crystal Castles and oldschool Mike Oldfield. ‘Small Fires’ continues with the lonesome, nostalgic tones that for a very unknown reason remind me of one particular song from Todd Haynes’‘Velvet Goldmine’ – ‘Sebastian’ performed by the fake band The Venus In Furs. The references are countless, from the intimacy of The Arcade Fire, anti-folk of Beirut to Aussie Gotye.
One track definitely worth mentioning is the closing track ‘Drone II’, it is the most separate from the rest of the album and most discussed – a collage of what sounds like zapping between talk shows and Smith’s own music. To me, a film and media theory graduate that specialised in new media and a music fanatic, it is a musical masterpiece painting in sounds the change in social habits. I could interpret the possible meanings behind this one composition for hours. Zapping and short attention span instead of family TV watching, TV becoming another family member and replacing human communication, TV in general as opposed to written word, all that put together in a computer generated piece of music, yet still composed by a man… It’s the most intellectual and personal piece of music on the album, also due to the fact that though Smith’s vocals are rather blurry and not necessarily relevant the tone of his voice conveys the message well enough. Here however the chat show voices are clear and hit the right spot. The noticeable change of accent from British to American in the talk show samples he used makes a statement about his double national identity.
Bearded Magazine wrote that ‘Semicircle’ is ‘a record that will be equally loved by musicians, sound technicians and the average listener’. I dare to disagree only with the last part – I doubt a very average listener will fully appreciate what Smith has single handedly achieved in his debut, especially considering the infamous ‘Arcade Who?’ reaction The Arcade Fire faced after receiving a Grammy. However it is a record that grew on me and allowed me to find those hooks behind each song. Knowing that it was recorded using voice, loops, pedals and God only knows what other instruments exactly, it is certainly the most intimate and humane piece of computer music.
Released July 04 on Function.
Posted by Magda