Ivansson – Gotcha! – Album Review
Not to brag or anything…but the independent music-scene has been pretty damn kind as of late. I’ve had the good fortune of taking in some great tunes over the past week or so – and more or less, it’s all been somewhat ‘outside’ of my normal taste…bands like Dave’s Neck, O.D.D., and artists like Nina Söderquist & Björn Skifs have all put in highly respectable efforts in genres, styles & sounds that I don’t naturally gravitate to.
But now, life gets even better somehow…Ivansson hasn’t just put out a great record to listen to with his album Gotcha! – this is also right up my alley in terms of what I’d WANT to listen to or naturally put on in my own free time. I’m absolutely stoked about the six instrumentals on this debut Ivansson album!
Let’s be clear though – there’s a reason this all comes out as stunning as it does; it might be the debut of Ivansson but this is far, far away from this project’s creator & sole-member’s first rodeo. Slovenian rock-guitarist Jernej Zoran got his original break back in 1999 with the Jernej Zoran Trio, which is nearly two-decades ago now…so you can already correctly assume that he’s continued to practice, play and refine his skills and talents over the years to follow. There’s no official mention of the breakup of the JZT that I can see in my notes here, but you CAN see the effects of time and a wandering focus…and how that began to affect the music post-1999. The decade to follow seems to start off with that hopeful energy and intentions we all have – and also like many of us, it begins to taper-off sharply, essentially all but inviting the end of a project to become the reality.
That being said, a true musician never gives up – they find a way to reinvent themselves. In between 2011 and 2017, Jernej Zoran went back to a solo-career and recorded three full-length records with one of the top labels in Slovenia before deciding to challenge himself yet again with new ideas in an entirely new project he decided to call Ivansson – and here we are. At long last, he’s now making the exact kind of music he’s always wanted to create – Gotcha! perfectly incorporates the roots of the artists/bands that have influenced, inspired and impacted his style & approach, while still allowing for his own creativity & wild, imaginative ideas to lead the way through the detailed structures & dedicated musicianship. Combined with his own extensive musical-history and passion for all-things-music, you get an immaculate mix of style and execution that stands out for its fusion-like instrumental efforts.
Bold blues-rock & classic tones come ROARING out of your speakers to start the album with its title-track, “Gotcha!” – a track that immediately raises the interest in listening ears and puts out a vibe that people will seriously dig. It’s got an old-school Clapton-meets-Hendrix kind of sound with a splash of his Stevie Ray Vaughan influence shining through here, all adding up to one highly addictive rhythm & groove that has incredible sliding-guitar tones ripping through with passion and energy you can FEEL. I figure you can honestly look at & listen to this song in one of two ways – you can focus on the fact that EVERY drum-hit, bass-line and guitar note is exactly where it should be, played with an unbelievably natural-feel…or you can compare this particular track to the rest to follow and realize that this opening track is nearly a walk in the park for what Ivansson proves to be capable of. Ain’t NOTHING wrong with starting a record off on a flawless performance though – I felt like “Gotcha!” was definitely enjoyable, somewhat comfortably-familiar in its sound perhaps, but still an incredible amount of personality and attitude in the music that immediately has you wanting to listen to whatever comes next on the record.
You can hear the blissful pop-inclinations of The Beatles influence sweetly infiltrate the melody-line of “Special Swedish Steel” – another early highlight on what becomes an album FULL of highlights. Jernej’s guitar parts are straight-up incredible; whether it’s the brilliantly focused & beautiful main melodies that drive the song or the intricate, complex and stunningly executed solos – the man demonstrates amazing skills and abilities the entire way through. Adding in real texture & tone, even the occasional harmonic along the way, the sweet sound of “Special Swedish Steel” is a complete pleasure to listen to, it’s very warm and inviting and a great way to continue to pull people into this record. The main hooks and blissful tones are gorgeously expressive and highly skilled – the progressions in the melody are continually impressive, saving its most emotionally-powerful moves for the final minute to end this track on all the right notes. Loved the addition of the choir sounds added subtly into the background throughout the mid-section of this tune with the wicked guitar-solo overtop…overall, I think “Special Swedish Steel” really shows you the expertise in both production and performance – Ivansson’s got an absolutely excellent track with widespread appeal here. Those WONDERFUL squealy-tones just past the first ninety-seconds? They’re freakin’ EXQUISITE! There really is…so much to LOVE about this.
If it’s pure atmosphere you’re looking for though…if you’re looking for that incredible slow-burning space-rock made infamous by Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour…you need to look no further than “Chemtrailin’ (Things Are Not What They Seem).” It’s a song that lives a couple of lives through the depth of its transitional nature and structure – and both halves of this tune are ENORMOUSLY satisfying. Throughout the beginning of this cut, you get some of the best tones you’ll find on the record from Jernej’s guitar, giving one of the album’s most Gilmour-inspired performances on “Chemtrailin’ (Things Are Not What They Seem)” – and in the second half of this tune, Ivansson takes the entire song somewhere entirely unexpected and into a new, inspired-energy that becomes essentially an all-new song of its own. Zoran’s guitar tones are entirely audibly-delicious – the opening of this song…or the first-half more specifically…pretty much said all the rest that needed to be said in my opinion; I was sold on the authentic & impressive skills & sound of Ivansson and pretty much realized from that point on, anything I’d likely hear afterwards would be just as flawless as the record’s first half had been.
And I’d be right about that – Ivansson won’t let you down for a single second of this album.
The second-life of “Chemtrailin’ (Things Are Not What They Seem)” is absolutely killer. It gets progressively wilder and more imaginative as it plays, once again saving real highlight moments for the ending, wrapping-up what’s been a seriously incredible journey through all kinds of sound in one song. Just past the four-minute mark, you can hear that extra-spark come alive in the music and he soars right to the ending, raising it up even further through the final run through of the song’s main melody and final 45 seconds or so, putting in truly memorable, highlight moments of sonic-awesomeness. It also begins to reveal some of the personality of the man behind the music. It’s through titles on songs like “Chemtrailin’ (Things Are Not What They Seem),” the song to follow “Brave New World?” and “Monsanto Baby Blues” in addition the power-line adorned album cover that really start to paint a clear picture of what Ivansson is ultimately trying to express about the instability and fragility of the present state of the world…that if we’re not careful, we’ll become permanent sheep in a 1984-esque reality while we think everything is going to be fine. And if anything, that’d be my guess as to the title of the entire record – Gotcha! – even though it’s an instrumental record, that’s a warning shot to the public to be aware of what’s happening and that if we don’t act, ‘they’ have got us right where ‘they’ want us.
At least, that’s the theory I’m going with.
For myself personally, I’ve always identified most strongly with the more ‘emotional’ pieces from virtuosos like Satriani, Vai and Beck…and I think that’s why I found “Brave New World?” to be such a compelling and memorable melody. It’s a really interesting composition from beginning to end – I’ll admit that it’s the most tenderized moments of “Brave New World?” that pull me in the most, but I also think that Zoran’s done another great job of combining styles, sounds and structures into a progressive idea that works all the way through. There are millions of songs I can think of where we all like one of the song’s parts more than the others – there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that; but at the same time you have to acknowledge that even in the parts that don’t pull you in as much, they’re all still played with exceptional skill and the purest passion on display. It starts off with pretty bright, hopeful tones before it transitions brilliantly along the way to a more thought-provoking melody that reveals a ton of heart & emotion you just can’t possibly ignore. I’ve made a lot of comparisons to some of the best musicians out there in the guitar-universe for plenty of good reasons – and in my opinion, it’s in listening to that genuine connection Jernej has with his guitar on songs like “Brave New World?” that highlights exactly why he’s right up there with the best of the best. This guy is an AMAZING player. Not just good, not just great – the dude has incredible tone, touch and feel for the guitar that will seriously drop your jaw and keep you listening to this entire record without hesitation. The solo that takes over the ending of “Brave New World?” is just another stunning example of the inspired energy that Ivansson can write into a song to create that highly-memorable impact at the end and give a tune a real finale.
I dig the downtrodden sound of “Monsanto Baby Blues” a LOT – and when the guitar springs to life at about ninety-seconds in…it is EVERYTHING. I can’t say it any better than that…that’s what it becomes – EVERYTHING. Without a doubt in my mind or my ears, I can firmly stand behind the fact that the guitar solo you’ll hear fueling the middle of this track is the best one you’ll hear on an album that’s FULL of impressive musicianship already…for it to stand-out at all would be an achievement. Jernej doesn’t just stand-out here though, he absolutely excels and propels “Monsanto Baby Blues” to an incredibly engaging level, providing amazing contrast between the energies of the song’s two main gears, leading to a noticeably captivating and charismatic result. It’s almost as if through the beginning of the song, you can feel that defeat implied by the title…the burst of energy and shifting of sound on “Monsanto Baby Blues” was honestly not one that I saw coming – and I think it’s one of the best, most-satisfying surprises on the record. Quite honestly – whether it’s production or performance, writing or ideas – I fail to hear what else a person could be left wanting, Ivansson has consistently provided incredible entertainment at all times through versatile material that is as creative as it is skilled. The wicked solo in this tune disintegrates perfectly into the opening tones of “Monsanto Baby Blues,” taking us full-circle to a low-key ending that sets the stage perfectly for the energetic beginning of the record’s final cut, “Thingamabob.”
Personally, I felt like the middle of this record was so strong between its first & last song that I had a harder time getting right into “Thingamabob” at first. The galloping bass-lines in that one peppy-part of the song’s structure, maybe that entire part that you could consider to be the song’s chorus really…it was a harder sell to my ears and admittedly sounded a bit more like a forced effort than the naturally flowing transitions that the majority of the rest of the songs had along the way. That being said, it’s songs like this that highlight the influence of Beck, Satriani and perhaps even some Zappa inspiring the twists in the music of Ivansson on “Thingamabob” – it’s highly-imaginative movements & ideas are certainly captivating. As an overall composition, it’s insightfully creative and Jernej plays it that way – it’s called “Thingamabob” for a REASON…a highly audible reason…it’s the musical equivalent of rooting through that random drawer in your house that holds all the awesome stuff you forgot you were missing so much in your daily life. I really liked the energy in the drum beats here…I really liked the ideas in the rhythm guitars along the way supporting the creativity in the lead with beautifully complementary chords – I even liked that it’s essentially a smorgasbord of ideas and sounds, even though as a structure overall, I know there’s no question about this final track being one that’d be a bit harder for the average set of ears to absorb. Which…kind of makes it a strange choice for the record’s lead-single, which to my knowledge, it is.
Overall, I’m certainly not complaining, not one tiny bit, not about anything at all – I loved this record. This guy deserves to be recognized for the efforts put in here – the production glistens & sparkles at every possible moment, the performances are immaculately flawless and wildly entertaining. You get a massive range of ideas from an incredibly capable and highly-expressive artist that understands how to get the very best out of himself and his music at all times. The focus and commitment to excellence never wavers, and as a result, the debut record Gotcha! from Ivansson comes out stunning from every angle – everything sounds like a project that has a real date with success in its future as far as my ears are concerned, I’d listen to anything from this guy and can’t wait to hear whatever comes next already.
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