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GUM - Out in the World Music Album Reviews

The new album from multi-instrumentalist Jay Watson (Tame Impala, POND) is his most ambitious to date, imbuing his mad-scientist home-recording project with some fleeting glimpses into his life beyond the console.  

Jay Watson was supposed to spend his summer touring arenas and amphitheaters with Tame Impala, resuming his role as Kevin Parker’s multi-instrumentalist sidekick that he’s held down for over a decade. Meanwhile, the fifth album from his solo outlet, GUM, arrived on the same day last week that Tame Impala would’ve wrapped up a string of North American dates at the Amway Center in Orlando, a circumstance that epitomizes the stark contrast between Watson’s high-profile touring gig and his passion project. Now that the promotional juggernaut for The Slow Rush has stalled and much of the world has become acquainted with the self-isolating lifestyle of a home-recording hermit, the conditions are ripe to better appreciate GUM on its own peculiar terms—and fortuitously, Watson has stepped up with his most ambitious GUM album to date.

While both groups function as one-man bands in the studio and share a fondness for synthetic psychedelia, their results couldn’t feel more different. If Tame Impala makes Parker’s solitary operation sound like stadium rock, GUM exudes a claustrophobic, mad-scientist energy that lends even the most grandiose gestures a DIY charm. This time around, he offers some fleeting glimpses into his life behind the recording console. Written after a brief six-month stint living in the Golden State, the opening “Weightless in L.A.” is a Syd Barrett-like serenade carried away on a parade of drum machines, yacht-rock sax, and digital noise, rendering the song less an ode to California dreaming than an attempt to shatter the idyllic facade. And while the title track may not be about explicitly about Los Angeles, the music suggests a blend of Laurel Canyon bliss and Ariel Pink paranoia, perhaps inspired by Watson’s recent entry into fatherhood—surely, every new parent can relate to the anxiety of a line like “It’s morning again/I’m sensing a trend/I don’t know how it takes so long to get to sunset.”

By Watson’s own admission, GUM records are more a catalog of moods than a collection of profound statements, and he’s become more adept at adding just the right details to expedite that immersion. Sampled strings add a sinister edge to the street-funk strut of “Airwalkin,’” while the heavenly chorus hook on the wistful “Many Tears to Cry” suggests Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight” given a Moon Safari makeover. Though Out in the World is rooted in the same self-deprecating, existential introspection as 2018’s The Underdog, Watson has discovered more colorful ways to express it: “So I go low to low,” he sings on “Low to Low,” as the track’s seductive bossa-nova beat scales from high to high. And with the closing “You Make Your Own Luck,” Watson effectively distills GUM’s whole essence into a two-part mini-suite: one half nocturnal cosmic ballad, one half sunrise-summoning soul-jazz groove, the song reaffirms Watson’s ongoing mission to find the elation in isolation.
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