By Allyson Bills
The illusion of identity in one’s life is captured in J Fernandez’s debut full-length album, Many Levels of Laughter. After releasing a few EPs, No Luck & Olympic Village and Memorize Now, comes Chicago-based Fernandez’s (whose day job is a map-maker) recorded Many Levels of Laughter in his apartment, which resulted in a psychedelic-folk, organic sound that’s very reminiscent of Yo La Tengo.
Communication (or lack thereof) is the main theme on the beginning of Many Levels of Laughter in both the songs, “Between the Channels” and “Read My Mind.” In “Between the Channels,” Fernandez sings about how “communication is a waste of time” over violins that blend perfectly with the guitar parts. What is interesting about this song is how ironic communication is because there is a part on the song where people are talking in the background that were around Fernandez’s apartment. It makes the listener wonder if communication is a waste of time after all. Whereas in “Read My Mind”, a low-fi sound with picky guitars, Fernandez is expecting people to have ESP with the lyrics of “Can you read my mind // And see the patterns I have left behind?” The instrumental part between the two tracks, “Markers,” provides the perfect atmospheric sound over Fernandez’s harmonies in order to give the listener a “real break” in communication with Fernandez.
The most unique track on Many Levels of Laughter, “Casual Encounter,” has a very early Plastilina Mosh-sound in the beginning, and a beautiful horn section. Also, “Casual Encounter” is the beginning part of the other themes of the album, which include lack of sleep and drugs and the illusion it creates in Fernandez’s life. “Casual Encounter” advises the listener to “Drink yourself to sleep // Capture every move you make.” The instrumental part of Many Levels of Laughter, “Filled with Joy,” is a perfect, happy bridge between “Casual Encounter” and “Holy Hesitation,” in order to create the illusion of happiness.
Both “Holy Hesitation” and “Souvenirs” further explores how drugs can create an illusion of one’s identity. The guitars and pianos builds up in “Holy Hesitation” in order to create a mystery of one’s identity over the lyrics of “Focus on what you are not // See the way to make things up // Camera reveals it all.” However, “Souvenirs” demonstrates the intensity of the song with the bass as the star of the song, with Fernandez singing about feeling insecure with coming down on drugs: “Safe inside the room // We never speak on the telephone since the lack of drugs.”
The final two tracks of the album, “Apophis” and "Melting Down,” focuses on sleeping issues. In “Apophis,” is the song where "many levels of laughter" comes into play: “Fall back to sleep // It’s too intense // You laugh at everything // There is no joking." "Apophis" talks about life having many levels of laughter and with Fernandez being relieved that he found this answer with “Feels strange at last // No room for common sense.” As for “Melting Down,” the track has a very electronic feel, which is very appropriate because it's very loose music-wise compared to the rest of Many Levels of Laughter as Fernandez admits to doubting everything and is now accepting of the fact.
Many Levels of Laughter is the most organic-sounding of any of his previous EPs, and demonstrates his abilities as a writer well because of his honesty and vulnerability. Those two aspects are what music fans love in a musician, which is the reason I think that Fernandez is one of the best songwriters that I have heard in years. Although, the tracks make sense on how they were ordered, the slower songs at the end, “Apophis” and "Melting Down,” waned my interest after the album started so strong. Despite this reservation, I overall enjoyed Many Levels of Laughter. I recommend that you add it to your collection.