Album Review: Caleb Landry Jones – Gadzooks Vol. 1

[Sacred Bones; 2021]

Victory at Cannes came as little to no surprise for Caleb Landry Jones. His award for Best Actor for his work in Nitram is the product of an immense talent and dedication, but also of a stunning versatility and remarkable endurance throughout his career which allowed him to establish himself in a business that is anything but predictable or stable.

The same could be said about his music endeavours. Last year, his debut album The Mother Stone landed like an uncanny UFO and was met with an overall positive reception, but most saw it as another 2020 anomaly—nobody expected him to take another shot at it, at least not this soon.

Gadzooks Vol. 1 is a continuation of sorts of Caleb Landry Jones’s intergalactic detour. It again symbiotically co-exists with his acting self but also showcases a creative malleability that resorts to both sacred references (his vocals range from The Man Who Sold The World Bowie to heroin Lennon and even solo Barrett) and an inexplicable curiosity of exploring further musical territories. Unsurprisingly performative, Gadzooks Vol. 1 plays out like strobes or flashes one after the other, reflecting brief glimpses of our own contemplation as consecutive mirror rooms in a carnival—which everybody knows can easily become the stuff nightmares are made of.

His voice and mannerisms are insidiously elastic, constantly mutating throughout the whole album without ever losing their core identity. It’s more about a perception of multiple layers than actual change, as we quickly realise we’re projecting our own plurality onto what unfolds before us. With an overdose of stimuli coming from every place at once, the album often feels like Jones is having a conversation with none other but himself, simultaneously asking the questions and providing the answers in an almost schizophrenic way.

Gadzooks Vol. 1 draws a fine line between dream state and nightmare, removing all sense of stability by insisting on its right to exist in a sonic high wire. Here, spring follows winter follows summer follows fall in the blink of an eye, a whirlwind underlined by the fact of most tracks being run-through, which means there’s little room to breathe. But breathing would mean being able to reflect on what you’re experiencing, which is something you should refrain from attempting until the very end. And yet, you know that by that time you won’t even know where to begin to process what you’ve just listened to; it will feel like you forgot everything before you could grasp it, and if you buckle up for another listen everything will appear strange and familiar at the same time. Where are you? What are you seeing? The moment you realise it, everything around you has changed.

Descending into madness has too much of a negative connotation, so Gadzooks Vol. 1 is more like ascending into insanity, exuding insanity as more of a privileged state of mind than a regret. In this sense, the album is extremely Foucauldian, seemingly rejecting the institutionalisation of deviations from what is perceived as normal (and which changes all the time anyway), whilst introducing the demonisation of madness as a societal handicap.

Gadzooks Vol. 1 celebrates this deviation in two ways: by showcasing inspiration as performance, and by providing sensory overload as the norm. You try to focus on a distant point on the horizon knowing it’s nothing but a lie, yet it’s the only reference you got; so you hang on to the mirage like an inexistent safety net as you get sucked into a vortex that drags you and melts you. The album chews your brain up and spits the bones out.

A 20 minute final opus promises “This Won’t Come Back”, but the very fact that the album is labelled Vol. 1 implies in itself the existence of at least a Vol. 2. But even this detail is disguised as both a veiled menace and a flashback warning: the bottom line here is, how energetically prepared are you for the shifts of Gadzooks?

More often than not, Gadzooks Vol. 1 feels like the product of a child prodigy who compulsively pushes buttons on their new toy piano while adults gather around them, watching in amazement as an exquisite melody takes shape. But the joke’s on us, the boringly unidimensional adults who doubted this would happen.