Jem Targal

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“Luckey Guy” CD (Obscure Oxide OO 2601CD)

by Aaron Milenski


It’s a long way from the Third Power to this Luckey Guy. Targal will always hold a place in the hearts of heavy psych collectors, as he wrote most of the songs on the Third Power’s “Believe,” which is absolutely one of the best hard rock albums of the psychedelic era. Due to “Luckey Guy,” he will also hold a place in the hearts of bizarre psych and rock collectors. And maybe, just maybe, there are some open minded folks out there who will be equally enchanted with both albums. The sparsely arranged, squeakily sung, barely “rock” songs on this album show a surprising pop sense (check out the melody and backing vocals on “Like Ya Do, By-You,” for example) and also a rather unexpected joy and breeziness. The Third Power had a typically moody hard rock feel to them, but Jem here clearly named his album aptly. He sounds like the happiest, luckiest guy on earth, even when singing about the bomb, and even when his voice is buried in special effects. Though the songs span four years of writing and recording (this is a true “home” project), the production style and quirky songwriting sensibility create a completely coherent whole. With an album like this, it’s always possible to wish that there were some more elaborate arrangements (there is basically no rhythm section, making the songs essentially guitar and vocal or piano and vocal), but Jem does a lot with what he has. For example, “Show & Tell It” gains an extra weirdness quotient by having the lead guitar and weird electronic noises mixed so low that they come off like a radio broadcast from outer space trying to worm its way into the song. Side two gets much more far out than side one, beginning with the album’s strangest song, “Bumble Bee Drive.” It has massive walls of reverb that threaten to drown out both the vocals and guitar, a noisy lead guitar that approximates the sound of a swarm, and a frantic, chaotic ending. The following “Bomb Tune” finds Targal so desperate that he is eating worms, and the next song, “Go No Go,” is the album’s strongest attempt to rock out (which he does rather impressively, given the weird rhythms and lack of drums.) “Hushes” has such a strong effect on the guitar that it sounds like it is speeding up and slowing down, yet the vocal remains steady throughout. By the end of the album, your ears will probably be ringing from the way his high voice mixes with the massive amounts of echo and reverb, and it’s arguable that this is best experienced a few songs at a time. (I think it would sound fab on the radio, and some of the better songs here would certainly turn some heads on a compilation.) Nonetheless, this is a very likeable album. It’s a labor of love from a singular personality. Many people call this a “real people” album, but that is missing the point. There’s a big difference between someone who has no real musical talent and someone who simply doesn’t have the resources to make a traditionally produced and arranged album. Targal is an accomplished songwriter and talented musician and this album is utterly competent in every way. In fact, after a number of listens, you will realize that this music really isn’t that strange at all. The love songs are quite straightforward, and all of the songs have catchy melodies beneath the wall of effects. (I can even envision “Dance With Cha Girl” being covered by a disco band.) The odd production sound is a result of the limitations of home recording by a one-man band with a minimum of instruments. The reverb, echo, and strange vocal arrangements give depth and fullness in a way that a larger number of instruments and overdubs would on a more “produced” album. The reissue is lovingly done, with the original artwork, a large fold-out lyric booklet, some amusingly enthusiastic liner notes from Targal, and a high- quality digipak. There’s no better way to experience “Luckey Guy.”