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“Found Songs Vol. 1,” Aaron Lee Tasjan

By Cher Guevara, Staff Writer

Folk-soaked Americana songslinger Aaron Lee Tasjan has been busy over the summer, dropping two EPs of leftovers and side cuts that he calls “Found Songs.” Mixing influences from Neil Young to Simon & Garfunkel, Tasjan and his band deliver a solid sonic helping.

Opening with “Fake Tattoo”, Tasjan and the gang kick off the EP with a blend of solid twangy pop-flavored country with snippets of noise and feedback from Eleanor Whitmore’s astonishing Mellotron work. The experimental notes are mixed well with the guitar, bass, and drums, and put a weird sheen on something that would otherwise be simply a good summer jam. Tasjan sings longingly about the love that got away, squeezing in the classic flavor of old fashioned summer sing-alongs.

“My Bed’s a Mess” has a meaner, grittier sound, balanced beautifully with Tasjan’s polished vocals. Another pining love cut, this one finds Tasjan wondering if his place is good enough for the one he wants. Digging a little deeper, it’s clear that his “bed” is his life and he feels the loser for not being seen as a cool enough, hip enough to get Cupid’s attention. Chris Masterson pulls some pretty good feedback-blipped chords, with Mark Stepro banging the drums in the second half towards a stomping crescendo.

The band gets a little weirder with “Holidays”, a track that opens with the plucking strings of Whitmore and the smooth brushing drums of Stepro before the rest of the band jumps in with Bryn Roberts on the piano and the soft acoustic guitars of Masterson and Tasjan. This is my favorite track on the EP, with its lush strings in the background and jazz-tinged nightclub sound. This is the ballad to play at the honky-tonk during last call, delicately tearing out all the rough feelings and broken hearts of the night.

The softer sounds continue with “What a War”, once again featuring the symphonic strings of Whitmore and beautiful harmonic vocals between Tasjan and Stepro. This is where Tasjan’s folk side shines the brightest. This cut sounds like a B-side from some forgotten Simon & Garfunkel session. Lyrically, Tasjan keeps the theme of love found and lost, this time using the metaphor of war, singing like a soldier returning from the front, looking for a home to return to, but not finding it. I’d be interested in hearing a stripped-down version of this, with just the vocals and guitar.

Vol. 1 comes to a close with “August is a Blessing”, ending this record with a sparse acoustic ballad. It leads with just the two acoustic guitars and harmonic vocals. Most of the band steps back, with only the lightest of drums and strings buried in the background. After a streak of heartbreak, it seems Tasjan is ready to find something to feel hopeful about, singing about light and beauty in the grungy reality of the city.

Found Songs Vol. 1 is a mini-feast of solid contemporary folk country, particularly the last half of the album. Tasjan and his bands are less concerned with stomping across the dance floor and more into singing their heartbreak away on the small coffeehouse stage. As someone who digs folk music with a bit of strangeness and an avant-garde touch, this EP was a pleasant surprise.

Next, I’ll take a crack at Tasjan’s Found Songs Vol. 2.

Found Songs, Vol. 1 is available on Bandcamp.