After coming to prominence as a sardonic folkie in the tradition of Todd Snider on albums like 2015’s In the Blazes and 2016’s Silver Tears (see that LP’s “12 Bar Blues”), Aaron Lee Tasjan, like many of his East Nashville contemporaries, has in recent years moved away from country-roots music and toward a more expansive pop-rock. 2018’s Karma For Cheap was a transitional record, swapping in electric guitars for acoustic, and folkie stoner wisdom for a more open-hearted curiosity.
Enter Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan!, the singer-songwriter’s latest album, and his most compelling to date. His sonic reinvention here — marked by stammering synths and swirling glam-rock — feels both effortless and inevitable. Tasjan delivers songs like “Sunday Women,” with its chorus storming the song in its opening seconds, and “Don’t Overthink It,” with its psych-rock outro, with a thrilling, fresh urgency that makes it feel like he’s the first singer-songwriter to discover (or, in his case, rediscover) synths and pop choruses.
“Up All Night,” the album’s centerpiece and pop highlight, would sound at home in a mid-Eighties arena. Sparse ballads like “Now You Know,” “Not That Bad,” and “Got What I Wanted,” meanwhile, conjure the Sixties melodicism of the Zombies and the Kinks. “Feminine Walk” is Tasjan’s own twisted mythologizing of his bohemian past (the songwriter once toured as a member of the New York Dolls), a thrilling travelogue that crams in references to Napster, Guy Clark, drag, and Conway Twitty in three and a half minutes.
“May the guitar rest in peace,” Tasjan sings early on in the album, at once mocking the idea, giving it credence, and wondering how his own record fits into the tired proclamation. Tasjan sings that line on “Computer of Love.” The song — a tale of “fake friends tweeting 2 cents” — is one of several vague meditations on the trappings of technology and social media (see “Cartoon Music”) that don’t quite hit in the same way as the rest of the free-flowing, exuberant record.
But for the most part, Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan! is a triumphant progression, merging all Tasjan’s varied strands of his musical DNA into a genuine tour-de-force. “Take this lonely song and break it/There’s no way I’m gonna make it,” as the 34-year-old singer who’s already lived many musical lives puts it toward the end of the album, “Nothing’s in the cards I haven’t seen.”