Debut: Jeff Saphin, "this", 1998
"Becoming One With The Music"
By Zac Shaw
If you're dying for an exciting new destination as you visit the venues in this summer's limited local club scene, you may actually find it within the walls of the Joyous Lake this Thursday. On July 8, WDST will welcome Jeff Saphin, broadcasting his psychedelic hybrid of rock and pop in real time. The New York-based singer/songwriter is touring to support his debut release, This. If you are present for the performance, you may find yourself stepping through the familiar doors of the Joyous Lake and into another space and time, an alternate musical universe quite different than Woodstock's folk-funk-reggae-rock stasis. Prepare yourself for an unreal aural encounter. To attend one of Saphin's shows is to stare straight into the third eye of an aggressively spiritual and musically uninhibited being, positively glowing with originality.
From the moment I cracked open the CD case, my eyes were overwhelmed with the cover image, which folded out to reveal a Technicolor pastiche of mystic symbols, spiritual icons and piles of nude bodies. There in the center of it all was Jeff Saphin, six arms and all, emitting heavenly light as if he were some great beacon of ethereal perfection. Over-the-top, certainly. Self-indulgent, perhaps. But Saphin stops short of `behold-my-greatness' egotism by backing these images up with substantial musical substance. In the end, the listener is convinced Saphin is more interested in leaving his ego behind in search of himself. The 14 tracks on This, just like his intemperate visuals, are landmarks along the musical roadside of his spiritual journey.
Saphin resurrects a psychedelic style that has made very few appearances since the art- and glam-rock of the '70s morphed into new wave and other utterly hip (at the time) genres of music. Such music has now been relegated to as-seen-on-TV compilations, but Saphin's updated otherworldliness sticks out in the pop-for-profit, mass-produced music industry of today. I feel safe in assuming Saphin is used to being the sore thumb on the commanding hand of the New York musical community. He sounds so sure of his work, so comfortable in his outrageousness that no one is left asking, "Is he for real?"
The grandiose nature of Saphin's music is at first hard to accept. If the uninitiated are only afforded an initial listen, many will walk away with traditional art-rock misgivings (style over substance, music to dazzle the senses, not the soul.) Saphin's press release even admits his music has a certain "time-release factor," which is quite true. But as with much of fringe music (and, indeed, this is the very definition of fringe pop-rock), the artist is creating a new sonic environment to which the listener must properly adjust before feeling comfortable. However, if you choose to surrender to Saphin, you will undoubtedly become one with the sound that surrounds you.
Given the aforementioned musical inclinations, it probably won't surprise you that critical comparisons to David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust and The Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour are quite ubiquitously interwoven through reviews in which words like `cosmic' and `mystical' are also often included. First impressions of his first release definitely make one thing very clear, though: this is not retro. As a truly adventurous artist, Saphin has a fresh take on the space-pop concept. Lush and melodic, This manages to expand in the already infinite expanse of the psychedelic genre.
Whether you desire a totally trippy rock experience or if you simply need to give your ears something different to absorb, you need to be in attendance for Saphin's WDST Session at the Joyous Lake this Thursday. If you miss this performance, you may be passing by an entire unexplored musical Universe.