If his second album catches on (and I’m hoping it does), Milwaukee, Wisconsin native Jeff Hanson, he of M.I.J.-fame, will hear the words “Elliott Smith” about as much as Interpol heard “Joy Division” three years ago. Which is a shame, because beneath the uncanny voice resemblance and closely-miked acoustic guitar are some of the most endearing songs since Damien Rice’s O (or Elliott Smith’s From a Basement on the Hill). Jeff Hanson knows this; he wrote them.
Jeff Hanson sings. He plays guitar. His songs are about the moments that occupy love and life, loss and life. His lyrics, when written in narrative form, read like fragmented poetry, like snatches of diary entries we should not be reading. Jeff Hanson uses lush and sometimes orchestral arrangements — piano, cello, violin — to convey a deeper sense of meaning that the lyrics can or do not. I call this “shading.” Jeff Hanson shares much in common with Nick Drake.
Jeff Hanson’s voice is very high, especially for a man. Jeff Hanson’s voice is so high it required repeated consultations of the accompanying press release to verify his gender. Jeff Hanson sounds like a girl.
Jeff Hanson has a God-given talent for searing melodies. His songs are familiar, but not light, not easily discarded. They are accessible. They are memorable. Jeff Hanson knows how to connect.
Jeff Hanson has recorded a wonderful, if flagrantly derivative, record. A concise, determined record. Its effortlessness feels not unlike the La’s debut or Elliott Smith’s complete catalog. But it is still good, can stay with us for awhile. Jeff Hanson can point the way.