Most people know Aaron Lee Tasjan as one of the wittiest, most offbeat, brilliant, weed smokin’ & LSD microdosin’ Americana troubadours writing and singing songs today. And the New York Times, NPR and Rolling Stone will all gladly corroborate. But steel yourselves, folk fans, because he’s about to follow his restless muse straight out from under the weight of everyone’s expectations into the kind of glammy, jingle-jangle power-pop- and- psych-tinged sounds he hasn’t dabbled in since his younger days playing lead guitar for a late-period incarnation of The New York Dolls.
Really, the roots of Tasjan’s new record, Karma for Cheap, stretch even deeper, drinking up the sounds of a Southern California childhood spent listening to The Beatles while riding around with his mom at the wheel of their navy blue Volvo station wagon— back to the very first pre-teen year he picked up a six-string and started figuring out all the pretty little chords in those Lennon-McCartney tunes. Back to the pure, blissful unfiltered innocence of falling in love with music for the first time. But more on that later. First, let’s ponder the brutish realities of the American Swamp.
Aaron Lee Tasjan says he aims to use his music for good, but he’s no protest singer. And Karma for Cheap isn’t some heavy-handed, didactic political record cramming a set of talking points down anyone’s throat. It’s a finely tuned rock & roll seismograph measuring the dark and uncertain vibrations of the time in which it was created. A cracked mirror reflecting back the American zeitgeist in this foul year of Our Lord, Two Thousand and Eighteen.
“When you’re a songwriter,” Tasjan says, you’re dealing in truths and untruths—that’s part of your commerce as a citizen of the world. And anything coming along that’s threatening to blur that line is a threat to your livelihood as a working American.”
Take it from Tasjan and Karma for Cheap, being a songwriter in the post-truth world of Trump’s America ain’t easy. Tasjan valiantly wrestles with this new normal in songs like “Set You Free” (“it’s a smokescreen scene and nobody knows what’s real”—fake news!) and “The Truth Is So Hard to Believe.” What will we do when we can no longer map the line between fact and fiction? When we exist in a world where the truth is unknowable and we’re at the mercy of liars and charlatans? “Hearts in chains and hands are off the wheel,” Tasjan sings in hypnotic staccato, tapping the collective cultural anxiety of all the rattled millions drifting off each night to a new American dream, one in which we’re all in a big red, white and blue camaro fishtailing down some winding tree-lined road in the bible-black dark, white-knuckle-clutching the oh-shit bar, accelerator glued to the floor and not a soul in the driver’s seat.