armchair cultural observation since 1995

Jai Agnish – Awake When You Dream


Jai Agnish Awake When You Dream
Self-released, Nov. 5, 2008

One of the joys, shall we say, of working for a small-town daily (something I still do on a part-time basis) is covering town planning meetings where professionals talk about drainage and traffic studies and mobs of people articulate their NIMBY protests.

As a reporter/newspaper editor in North Jersey, Jai Agnish has experienced his fair share of local land squabbles. That’s obvious when you listen to “Shopping Malls,” a song that almost immediately became my favorite track on his latest full-length album.

Agnish had me the first time I heard him sing, “Whose land is this anyhow/not mine, not yours, not anyone’s.” The song, like the album as a whole, is presented in a sparse arrangement of lightly strummed guitar, quietly repeating keyboard and Jai’s melancholy sing-songy storyteller voice.

The electronic elements of his debut – hard to believe it’s been eight years since Automata – have been traded in for a simpler, more organic approach but much of the material is still unmistakingly Jai Agnish.

When he sings about the sanitized tour guide in India, the love he’s found with the woman he now calls his wife, lightning bugs, local politics and shopping malls it’s hard not to imagine sharing a cup of coffee or a beer with Jai as he ruminates about all the things that have happened in his life since a younger, single, less traveled and perhaps less cynical man started screwing around with the nobs of switches of his four-track.

Agnish doesn’t possess the strongest singing voice and may not have carved enough a new path to win over those dismissive of his previous offerings (Automata, a split EP and some compilation appearances), but like a good conversation where ums, long pauses and split infinitives are easily ignored, the endearing quality of Jai’s music outweigh his shortcomings.

The best news for the recession-minded among us is that Jai decided this one would be on him. I couldn’t buy this one at a shopping mall even if I wanted, but thanks to Jai I won’t look at NIMBY squabbles quite the same again. If anything, I’ll be tempted to scream out, “give it back to the animals, give it back to the dinosaurs.”

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