Shocked by Jellyfish

I had a profoundly strange musical experience the other day. For a month or so, I’ve been feeling tired of my music collection, and I haven’t known what to try next. Nothing has reached out and grabbed me by the ears, but at the weekend I remembered that I’ve been meaning to check out some Jellyfish.

The reason for that is that a lot of musical threads I’ve picked up recently can be traced back to this band. To start with, there was Bleu, who I saw in support of Toad The Wet Sprocket back in 2003. I absolutely loved his album Redhead. One of the songs on the album, “Could be worse”, was co-written by Andy Sturmer, and I think that Bleu has co-operated with Sturmer on a few other projects as well. Andy Sturmer was the drummer and lead singer for Jellyfish.

Bleu has also worked with Puffy AmiYumi, who also work closely with Sturmer, and whose album Nice has been recommended to me at various points.

Back in February, Keith passed me Jason Falkner’s CD, Presents Author Unknown, which I liked quite a bit. Jason Falkner was Jellyfish’s guitarist.

Then, in April, Glen Phillips (formerly of Toad The Wet Sprocket, see above) released his excellent new CD Winter Pays For Summer, on which he is supported on several tracks by–guess who–Andy Sturmer.

So, hoping that they would break me out of my musical ennui, on Monday evening I finally downloaded their album Bellybutton from 1990. (They only put out two albums, the other one is Spilt Milk from 1993)

I skipped through the first two tracks, thinking, hmm, yeah, that’s okay. But I pulled up short on the third song: “The King Is Half Undressed”. The opening guitar riff sent a shiver up my spine. I recognized it. Then the drums came in, and the vocals, and the sense of familiarity grew even stronger. When the chorus burst out, I was in full-body goosebumps mode. Not only did I know the song, but it a favourite from many years ago. In fact, I’m almost certain I have it sitting on an old cassette tape in a box in our garage.

And yet I’d completely failed to recognize the band name “Jellyfish”. Weird. I’m usually pretty good about remembering music and artists, and around 1990 I was at a very impressionable age (first/second year of Uni) and a lot of the music I was listening to was laying down strong permanent associations. But also: from what I can find by looking around the web, Jellyfish made virtually no imact on the British music scene. So how did I know that song?

It gets even more interesting. It turns out that “The King Is Half Undressed” is not the only song I know from the album. I didn’t have time to listen to any more of it on Monday evening, but when I was in the car with Scott on Tuesday, we listening to the whole thing, and I knew three other tracks: “That Is Why”, “I Wanna Stay Home”, and “Baby’s Coming Back”.

But…how? Without any transatlantic success on their part, the only thing I can think of is that they must have been getting a lot of airplay when I spent the summer of 1991 in California. The station I listened to most was KFOG, and I reckon that Jellyfish’s music would have been right up their street at that time. But on the other hand, I bought a lot of (second-hand) CDs that summer (yay Amoeba!), and if I’d heard four tracks I really liked by an artist I hadn’t come across before, I’m sure I would have picked up their CD. But I didn’t.

I’m confused and disoriented. The music is tapping into a deep visceral pool of recognition, but I can’t make any conscious, intellectual connection with even actually hearing it or being aware of it before. It’s like a kind of amnesia. I’m feeling the same kind of cognitive dissonance as I did when I temporarily lost all muscle memory of how to tie a necktie. There’s just something wrong in my head.

(As for whether I like the rest of the album, well, it’s so-so. Apart from the four songs I noted above, I don’t think there’s anything on there that is likely to make my permanent playlist.)

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11 comments

  1. No chance they were a secret smash hit band in the Netherlands? You spent a few weeks of that summer in Heerlen before coming to California…

  2. “That Is Why” is their only tune that I heard on the radio in the U.S. (I was in upstate New York during that period, however, so I’m not sure what that data point is worth).

    Several people I know who dig Jellyfish prefer their second album, “Spilt Milk”. I’m on the fence, but “Joining a Fan Club” and “The Ghost at Number One” are terrific songs. And, for the trivia-inclined, they replaced Jason Falkner on guitar with Jon Brion. If his name doesn’t ring a bell, check out the production credits on albums by Aimee Mann, Fiona Apple, Badly Drawn Boy, Elliott Smith, etc.

    Also, if you can track it down, “Bubblegun” by The Merrymakers is the most beautifully hook-laden power-pop album I’ve ever heard (it was produced by Andy Sturmer).

  3. Bun–I might have heard them in NL, but I don’t think so. On the other hand, I have no other memories associated with hearing the songs, so who knows…

    Keith–looks like I’ll have to track down the Merrymakers. Also, I just checked the sleeve notes for “Winter Pays For Summer”, and I noticed that Jon Brion is on there for a couple of tracks as well!

  4. Assimilation is complete. You will now be devoted to them for life. Which is a bad thing if it weren’t for it being a good thing. Don’t worry. The jellyfish influence is subtle, but it can be found in lots of places. For buoyant current examples check out “Wheat” and another band “The Feeling”. No. They aren’t the second coming of jellyfish. They’re songs in the Key of Jelly-Lite.

  5. My musical love affair with Jellyfish started when I saw them open for the Black Crowes in 90-91. The first time I saw them on television I really thought they were throw back retro-hacks. I was put in my place after seeing them live. I’ve tried to recreate the JF experience by listening to post JF bands such as Jason Falkner, The Grays, Imperial Drag, & even some live shows of Roger Manning on keyboards for Beck. Even though he didnt play on a single JF album I still follow Eric Dover & I’m currently awaiting his new project SEXTUS (Erics alter-ego). I’m realistic enough to realize a Jellyfish reunion will never happen but a boy can dream…..right? Best Wishes Simpletons!- JP

  6. Old thread, but I got here as soon as Google would let me.

    If you are suffering from a 13-year-old Jellyfish jones, check out founding-member Rojer Manning Jr.’s new solo CD, “Solid State Warrior”. He co-wrote a good chunk of the Jellyfish stuff and this CD sure sounds like it.

  7. Congradulations! You are going to be hooked for life! Yes, you heard those songs on KFOG, because JF were Bay Area natives and KFOG played them more than anyone, and still do. MTV also used their music alot in the early ’90’s as music beds and on the Real World. Check out the different “New Mistake” demos and and live CD’s, they have songs on them used on the “Super Mario Brothers” computer games. I grew up 2 towns over from them, and an old friend of mine that went to high school with them turned me on to them in ’89.

  8. I was 17 and living in “the stix” when I first heard Jellyfish. All that had been available to me up til that point was the ubiquitous Top 40 “be one-of-the-flock” stuff. Jellyfish excited me so much that I have to credit them with a complete about-turn in how I listened to music, I really started to explore and be a bit more independent….seeking out music which inspired me, irrespective of what my friends were listening to.

    I managed to see them only once (at the Astoria in London) before they split….it was my first ever gig and I was like a jumping bean! I missed possibly their biggest gig in the UK, which was supporting INXS at Wembley on their Summer XS tour. I was still living in Wales at the time and have to admit, I shed a tear or two over missing that one!

    You often hear echoes of them in newer, melody-laden, sting-in-the-tail Power Pop bands…there’s even a mini-homage to them in the video to The Feleling’s “Fill My Little World”, if you look carefully.

    Another related thread for anyone who’s interested…. You should check out Brendan Benson’s (some people know him from from The Raconteurs, but I’ve been listening to him for 10 years now) 1996 album One Mississippi. Jason Falkner (ex-Jellyfish guitarist) co-wrote about 6 of the tracks on there and I still love listening to it now. Quirky, bright and pretty!

    Enjoy! x

  9. Karma, thanks for the heads up on those 2 bands.

    Check out The Tories – they are VERY Jellyfish like and I think Roger produced the albums.

  10. I have both albums by Jellyfish. Spilt Milk is probably my favorite album ever, by any band. Bellybutton kinda sucks. Please do yourself a favor and listen to Spilt Milk. It’s shocking how much better it is than not only their first album but every album any band has ever recorded in the history of music.

  11. To whoever said they replaced Jason with Jon Brion was wrong. Yes, Jon Brion did some guitar work on Spilt Milk, but that’s it. They replaced Jason and Chris Manning with Eric Dover and Tim Smith. And to Nate, hell yes on Spilt Milk being the best album of all time, but Bellybutton is also incredible. It took me longer to fully get into that record but it was worth it.

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