If Jarrow’s debut album 2003 Dream was a collection of songs and experiences of the nostalgia generation, then Expensive Hugs seems to reflect Jarrow’s (aka Dan Oke) growing up both musically and personally. Two years after the debut album which caused many listeners to fall in love with the endlessly relatable and endearing Melbournite, this release has the marks of polish and honing of craft without any loss of heart or personality.
Not only are the songs characteristically catchy and fun, they are also expertly arranged with beautiful lyricism only enhanced by the ordering which well demonstrates idea development across the album. The first track and second single, ‘Kelp’ couldn’t have introduced it better opening with solo guitar chords and Jarrow’s clear voice showing off his storytelling flair “lock all of your friends in the same rubbish bin/and I’ll put it out for you.” As this song and the rest of the album continues, it is evident that Jarrow represents one of the upcoming great Australian lyricists as he blends suburban imagery and quirky metaphors with earnest depictions of personal experiences, drawing an easy comparison to Courtney Barnett or Paul Kelly.
The sound of this album reflects the diversity of Jarrow’s musical output; this multi-instrumentalist is a common fixture of the local music scene playing a variety of roles in multiple bands, frequenting sticky floor haunts of the inner north and house shows of the western suburbs of Melbourne. Mixing jangle pop with soft punk sensibilities leads to short songs which romp through a variety of tones, remarkably reminiscent of his live performance style. The instrumental ‘Dreams’ feels like a joyful rock out moment early in the album which leads perfectly into the quiet sincerity of ‘Zone’.
The understated success of this album is its production; while many sophomore albums by lo-fi artists become overproduced, the tracks on Expensive Hugs allow for each instrumental element to be heard without the character of the overall sound to change. This is particularly beneficial for an artist like Jarrow who plays the majority of the instruments being performed and recorded himself. ‘Season’ is the prime example of a track which is neither too overproduced but also has been arranged in a loose way which draws the listener into what feels like a private jam session, albeit a very good one. This feeling is only enhanced by the beautifully simple love song at the end of the album, ‘Derrimut’ which features an adorable lyric of our times, “the fastest trip that uber would allow.”
For those yet to see Jarrow live, this album is as good a substitute as you can hope for. The album drips with the love of music, lack of ego and sense of play which is very powerful in the live performance. The sense of sonic play is especially evident in ‘Bleach’ and ‘Hybrid’ with vocal effects being added and abandoned throughout the track. This technique represents Jarrow’s constant quest for new sounds and motifs within his tracks while also allowing him to take the piss out of his own attempts at rockstar performance.
It is not often that an album blends musical skill and beautiful arrangement with the casual fun of Expensive Hugs and it is not hard to see that to this reviewer, it is a real hit. While the lo-fi pop/indie rock sound is not hard to come by, Jarrow’s second album shows that there is a real beauty in an artist who can do it well. Jarrow’s skill in street poet lyricism means that while this album may be easy to listen to, there is an emotional depth which reflects the zeitgeist of a particular space and time and with that, its appeal is sure to endure.