by Scott Deckman
Jason Martin is getting old. Unfortunately, we all are. No stopping that. On IAMACEO, which was available online as a digital download as early as late December 2012 at Undertow Music Collective, he’s reflecting on the travails of both life and faith, two subjects he’s always pontificating on, especially, it would seem, as midlife began, and even more so after the death of his father a few years back (in fact, this is the most I’ve heard him sing about his faith, and it’s not heavy-handed, but full of doubt and angst). Heck, back in 2003 he even named a record Old. And call me stupid, or dense, but I originally thought IAMACEO referred to an older relative (grandfather?), judging by the cover photo. I AM A CEO. Maybe I’m the one losing a step here. Yes, Starflyer 59 is off Tooth & Nail Records and Martin is doing it himself, and he feels buried under all the pressure of releasing an album and living up to a Christian ideal, all while, I’m assuming, still driving a truck at his day job. And like he bemoans on the title track, despite finally running things, “you’re still not in control.”
Welcome to reality, Mr. Martin.
Whatever the subject matter, one thing you can’t take away is the polish he brings to a record, and like everything else I’ve heard from him, it’s here. Kissing cousins with 2010’s The Changing of the Guard, IAMACEO is Martin light, but not Martin lite. And like The Changing of the Guard, this softer, more meditative Martin does have its charms, just not as many as the halcyon days of just five years ago; IAMACEO is on the same level as its sister, maybe a mite weaker. Artists have their peaks and valleys, no doubting that. And we can’t all be in our 20s forever, or even our 30s. A relatively new art form, it’s still too early to definitively say that rock’n’roll is a young man’s game, but evidence does mount.
This is a meditation on growing older, of regret, anxiety, and, on one song at least, a questioning of faith. He’s weary on IAMACEO; yes, he has that eschatological silver lining, but like all believers, he struggles with life’s trials. That’s part of being human.
“Bicycle Rider” shows his knack for catchy melodies, “Open Hands” is somewhat catchy too, a wizened primer on the dark side of human nature that’s partially buried in distorted guitar. More and more, Martin’s voice becomes an instrument, and he’s smart enough to stay in his whispery, sing-speak range. There’s harmonica on “Is This All There Is” (and on “Bicycle Rider,” “Father John” and “Red Tide,” too), an instrument he used on Old‘s “Passengers.” There is also what sounds like a flute or some type of woodwind on the song as well; Martin loves his studio (caveat: In the days of Pro Tools, one can’t be sure exactly how he’s making some of these noises).
On “Red Tide,” he seems to reference his departed father, specifically, being in the waiting room when things were near the end. Here, the song’s bouncy beat juxtaposes some very weighty lyrics. He’s equally morose on “Is This All There Is,” where he contemplates his effect on the world, wondering if Mother Earth will still keep spinning after the SS Martin reaches its final destination.
Many fans expect heavy themes from Starflyer 59, but Martin is testing their collective faith with two downcast efforts in a row. The artist must be true to himself. Whether you like this sadder direction or not, you have to marvel at the musicianship of the band and the flawless production (I’m not sure who is accompanying Martin this time, if anyone).
Though he seems to parlay the downers with fuzzy hope throughout IAMACEO — sometimes in the same song — this schizophrenic treatise on perseverance focuses more on his troubles than the upside; Martin’s trying to be stoic, though cynics may accuse him of being maudlin. Life ain’t always fair, and melancholy abounds, yet Martin sings on “Pot of Gold,” “the rainbow ends with my home.”
Being the CEO isn’t always easy, but someone’s got to lead. And it’s oddly comforting that a man so talented and seemingly grounded gets scared just like the rest of us.