Gum is now his own artist, and he’s got the Wikipedia page to prove it. Or so we should think.
Delorean Highway is Jay Watson’s first solo release under his nickname/pseudonym Gum. A songwriter for Pond and touring member of Tame Impala; the initial hype and resultantly high expectations surrounding this album prior to its release were probably a bar set too high for the 24 year old multi-instrumentalist. Sure, it sounds good – the first two tracks of the release, ‘Delorean Highway’ and ‘Growin’ Up’, constitute both of its singles. Both songs are deep, heavy breaths of sonic manipulation, airy vox and simple pop progressions obscured by an avalanche of effects pedals. But that’s the problem. So is every single song on the ten-track album.
Now, Delorean Highway does have some moments that emerge as its best. Once ‘The Sky Opened Up’ gets into swing, it really does swing. A surf-rock beat drives simple shoegaze guitar licks as Gum’s vocals float in a gentle haze over the top. Had the entire album sounded like this, Watson would have a surf-rock ripper on his hands. The LP’s final track, ‘Can’t See Past My Eyes’ is a soothing guitar ballad that makes aesthetically pleasing, albeit shameless, use of multiple synthesisers. The double-tracked vocals and airy melody of ‘Pink Skies’ are reminding of something from Pet Sounds; while the track itself begins as an apparent homage to ‘Allergies’ (his own song), before a crescendo chorus that suddenly breaks back into gentle verse. A pleasant surprise.
But aside from this, by the instrumental seventh track ‘Day of The Triffids’ the songs are indistinguishable. Watson makes use of the same sounds and effects (and essentially, ideas) in almost every song on the album, leaving very little leeway for surprises after song two. While the basic chord progressions are a strong point of the album, it’s really quite disappointing that a songwriter as accomplished as Watson can’t seem to do more with them. The Genesis cover, ‘Misunderstanding’, sounds more or less identical to all the other songs; substantiating that whatever songwriting skill went into the album, the overuse of the same pedals, synths and vox effects has fudged the results.
So while it may not be the songwriting that’s at fault, it’s an album that ends up meshing into itself. Kind of like a tidal wave that finds no real direction and thus implodes. None of Watson’s intended themes about “falling in love and all of the things that are going to kill him” prevail within the release. I would say it’s fine for a first album – but it’s not really his first attempt at an album. Watson has been making better songs than this for years.