One word to describe the new Jimmy Whispers’ album Summer in Pain, released on Moniker Records, is enigmatic. Another word could be unpredictable. And even better words would be cultishly listenable. The longtime Chicago resident, street artist, and musician has been something of an underground phenomenon. This March he released his collection of ten lo-fi pop songs that are at times reminiscent of the warbled vocals of Daniel Johnston, early Ben Kweller, and something your dad probably listened to in the 70s.
The album, comprised of ballad-like pop music, includes solid hooks and dreamily earnest lyrics such as, “Tell me that the love you have wasn’t real,” from the single “Heart Don’t Know.” Throughout his tender admissions, Whispers’ voice breaks in all the right places, particularly when he sings that he’ll be “thrashing on the ground.” Throughout the album, confessional refrains filled with pain are interspersed with childlike declarations about the transformative nature of love.
The energy from his live performances, as well as the introspection of his street art, translates into an entirely new artistic experience within the album. The listener is brought into Whispers’ world with a booming announcement of the musician. As the intro boasts he’s: “The greatest bedroom popper, poppers, in the tri-state area!” On paper this might seem like a contrived way to open an album, but Whispers broadcasts himself over faux arena noises with the crackly charm of a play-acting child. This makes it somehow disarming instead of detestable.
The entire album is imbued with an equally beguiling eagerness. The straightforward repetition of “Vacation” elicits a guffaw at the end (for reasons you’ll need to experience for yourself), while the heart twisting “Pain In My Love” and “Michael, Don’t Cry” strike true with their emotional directness. Whispers sounds like he’s berating himself with the spoken command to “change the feeling” in the beginning of “I Get Lost In You In The Summertime,” and he does just that. With songs about love, summer, drugs, and hurt, the scope of the music, both lyrically and musically, is ambitious without falling into cliché.
Summer in Pain owes a great deal of its raw nature to the liberal use of the Thomas Californian electric organ, and a recording process that supposedly involved Whispers singing directly into his iPhone. The mixing bounces the listener through all of Whispers personal thoughts and feelings, nothing about Summer in Pain feels formulaic. The sincerity of this project is innovative in both the newness of its sound, and surprising lacking of pretension. Prepare to have Jimmy Whispers’ wistful music usher you into the spring.