by Chuck Zak
In his guise as Player Hater, Jeff Gomez pursues torpid melancholia with a single-minded devotion that is not only admirable, but surprisingly enjoyable. When his rudimentary songs and lo-fi aesthetic converge with one of his painfully real details of a failing relationship, it's like being in the company of a perpetually blue but still illuminating friend who can frame his woes in such a way that they feel a bit your own. It's also nice to hear from someone who is even worse at all that stuff then you are, especially if they can wring a decent tune out of it.
Gomez does try to wring the heck out of three lazily strummed chords and a somnambulant drum machine, though. Willing to test the listeners patience a bit by plumbing the depths of BPM possibilities while frequently exceeding the six minute mark, it would've been tough to navigate Picking You Up Just to Put You Down had it been a dirgy affair. But there's a persistent sweetness and welcome echoes of old favorites like Felt in the similarly dry melodies or the Smiths in the music's sad elegance to put it over.
Disarmingly self-deprecating in the critique of his own music, Gomez owns up to "minimal talent" in liner notes for some of his earliest songs, which would be a fair assessment. But he's at least improved upon those meager beginnings, even if his bedroom productions are only a slight more polished. Considering his parallel career as an author (Our Noise, Geniuses Of Crack) it's not surprising that the confessions to failure Gomez utters vaguely are as important overall as the cozy web of guitars. These spare melodies need the color, although no lyric is particularly quotable.
"Who's Walking Away" and "I'm Upset" have the least nebulous of hooks of this batch, the first benefiting from a relatively frisky drum pattern and the second from a bleary, hazy verse. They represent the pinnacle of his Lou Reed-inspired approach of naked simplicity and plain language. But all Jeff's musings on "They Might Be Assholes" concerning the similarly named alt-dork duo can't save the dreary tune, nor in the closer "Leave." These are where keeping your attention focused may get difficult.
Still, without seeming to try very hard, Player Hater--if we must call him that--performs a low-wattage entrancement with Picking You Up Just to Put You Down. It's good, solid sad-sack music from a guy who might be ultimately be better off alone and miserable.
Lost at Sea
by Sarah Peters
Everybody plays the fool. One of my favorite albums, Portastatic's
Summer of the Shark, received a glowing review from yours truly when it
first came out, where I went on and on about how good it made me feel
listening to it. It still does; it still brightens my day. However, it
was not until about the 500th listen or so that I realized it was an
album about September 11th. If I would have known before loving it, I
would have pinned it as a much sadder album, but just the tone of Mac
McCaughan's voice and the chipper, carefree notes that spring from his
guitar make me joyful nonetheless.
Player Hater shares the same sort of plucky acoustics as Portastatic,
but regardless of its upward sound, I'd never have pegged this as
sprightly -- chiefly due to the vocals of Jeff Gomez. His Joy
Division/Magnetic Fields-styled vocals move matters to a very wry playing field, where
tone and humor are equally dark, and any hints at feistiness are just a
As one might expect, those more upbeat tunes are the most immediately
satisfying, as they play out on both levels, and have the most sarcastic
humor of the bunch. "Let's Hope This Time is the Last Time" holds the
same dreamy reverb of the rest of the album -- courtesy of spindly,
Cocteau Twins-style layering -- but functions as a fairly optimistic,
Magnetic Fields breed of windowpane observation piece.
The disc's true stunner, "Who's Walking Away," is lovely and rich with
nice faux bells and a Cureish, low, whispering buzz. The track shows
what happens when the pieces come together quite exactly, and Gomez does
everything right. What's more, it shows he's capable of hitting it
right on the head, at least once, even if some of his bits-and-pieces
attempts fall just short.
The two main characteristics that lead to such missed attempts are an
overall "samey" feel, where the disc tends to drag along, and an
abundance of synthesized instrumentation. On "They Might Be Assholes," where
there are synthetic strings, an actual string section would assuredly
move the track from passable to glorious. Likewise with "While You
Weren't Listening," where its slowcore intimacy would truly open up if the
track didn't have such an unnatural feel.
On the other side of this, however, when Gomez's vocals are laid
purposefully flat - as best heard on the closer, "Leave" -- their tinny
quality gives a very stinging, guarded effect that plays to the album's
strengths. The air of dreaminess is fully complimented as Gomez's vocal
reigns stop short, allowing the skewered balance the room it needs to
really be noticeable.
The milky, dense feel of Picking You Up Just to Put You Down, along
with its slow, molasses-sticky sweetness, gives it enough likeability to
make a follow-up enticing, and repeat listens necessary. While there
is room to move, it's clear Gomez has the right direction in sight.
by Jon Rooney
Once I get past their regrettable name, I can't help myself from finding an awful lot to like about Player Hater's music. Player Hater, primarily the vision of novelist and bedroom musician Jeff Gomez, mixes the lo-fi pop thing with 4AD-esque chorus pedals and synths, Silver Jews-style country balladeering and the literate no-nonsense of Lou Reed. Their new CD, Picking You Up Just to Put You Down is well-crafted mope pop that sheepishly grows wings with repeated listens. The first song "P.O.P.E.Y.E" opens with shimmering, Cocteau Twins-like guitar strumming before embarking on a lyrical dressing-down of someone apparently living like a rolling stone - "You can't spend one minute on your own/You pay your rent like you're paying your dues." Thematically, much of Picking You Up Just to Put You Down seems to be an open letter to a former friend or lover who's apparently gone off course and fallen prey to the sins of entitlement and callousness. "Let's Hope This Time is The Last Time" is a solid, mid-tempo tune that manages to be both catchy and dreary at the same time, a feat once accomplished solely by British art school bands in ruffled shirts. "They Might Be Assholes" opens with what sounds like an Andy Richter sound bite ("I'm not allowed to come up with a single original thought") before a wash of synth strings and plodding drum loops brings in Gomez's hushed mumbles. The rest of the album continues with a cocktail of low vocals, drum loops, strummed guitar and synths so subdued and depressed that Luna sounds like Earth, Wind and Fire by comparison. Buried in the rainy day arrangements are some neat melodies, dry, clever lyrics and subtle, interesting instrumentation. Heartbreak and disappointment are far from novel subjects, yet Gomez is able to craft a cohesive, slow burning work about those most universal and overwrought emotions. The final track, "Leave," uses only washed-out vocals and an acoustic guitar to craft a somber, effective kiss-off. Despite the format, Picking You Up Just to Put You Down is at least mid-fi, free of the tape hiss, errant clipping or the curious ambient noise that often finds it way into 4 tracks and cheap guitar pedals. Is it radio ready? Only if the college DJ is juggling a broken heart, Pale Fire and 3 hours of sleep. In other words, this is recommended.
by Mike Doyle
Who woulda thunk that an acoustic pop record with only two songs that come in at under five minutes would turn out to be a featured review? Picking You Up Just to Get You Down gets a tentative nod for a few reasons, not the least of which is its drowsy but pleasantly heartfelt sad-sack approach. Songwriter Jeff Gomez has a plaintive, faintly nasal voice that works best when he avoids the double-tracked vocals laced throughout the album. The songs rely on simple strumming and basic synth notes that should be more boring than they are. Loosely brushed drums pop up occasionally, but they're so simply and softly played that they're only really useful for counting sheep. Gomez's melodies are catchy enough to hold interest, but don't try to sing along; if you do, tears are likely to roll down your lonely cheeks.
Opener "P.O.P.E.Y.E." is a chore, but "Let's Hope This Time Is The Last Time" fares much better. Gomez moves from a tongue-in-cheek Stephen Merritt imitation ("I have never done this before in my life / I have never started a song by repeating the first line twice" -- and repeat) to a passable American Analogue Set routine. Like every other song on the album, it doesn't need to be six minutes long, or five, or four, but after a while it's clear that Gomez is content to rest in his heavy-lidded songwriting. "Losing More Than Sleep" actually ends with the sound of snoring, and it's only the middle of the album.
Luckily, things pick up on "Who's Walking Away", a plaintive but pretty tale in the vein of, well, anything by Trembling Blue Stars. Though this review probably has you wondering, it wouldn't be fair to call Gomez derivative. Sure, he chooses the path oft chosen, but it's a nice enough path, with occasional gardens and lots of benches to spread out on. Though a few tracks are tainted by a sort of digital coldness that even oodles of reverb can't warm up (note to all you musicians singing into your PCs: reverb is not the cure!), there's still enough here to cuddle up to, like slow dancer "While You Weren't Listening". Admittedly, every song on Picking You Up is cut from the same cloth, but it's cloth that should keep you comfortably warm the next time you come home from the pub alone.
Picking You Up Just To Put You Down is the 4th collection of lo-fi pop from singer/song-writer Jeff Gomez. Although the album has moments of excellence, what I found most intriguing about Gomez is his backstory. In 1993, Gomez began Our Noise, a zine consisting of his own short stories. By 1995, he abandoned the zine and transformed it into a novel of the same name. Since then, he has written three additional books.
In 1996, Gomez fronted the L.A. band Bespin Fatigues. He proceeded to move back to Manhattan and eventually unveiled his Player Hater alias. Gomez's music has a distinct New York vibe and calls to mind the work of Dean Wareham. Gomez is at his best on "They Might Be Assholes," a track that details how your musical preferences change as you age, "They might be assholes, it's true / But the music's still the same / The only thing that's changed / Is you." How could you not relate to that?
The minimalistic production on Picking You Up Just To Put You Down has the tendency to make some of the songs stick together, and it wouldn't have hurt to cut down the duration of the lengthier tracks. I think that the album would have been more effective as an EP. Gomez has yet to reach his full potential, but the skill is there. Hey, if the music gig doesn't work out, Gomez will always have his pen to fall back on.
Left Off the Dial
by Lucas Walker
Humorous and somehow almost embarrassing, the name Player Hater would normally dissuade this fearful reviewer from even picking up the album. There's an unfortunate sense that the music of Player Hater would be that highly specialized genre of socially conscious hip-hop that makes up for its lack in quality by passionate sincerity. But such fear would have been this reviewer's loss. Jeff Gomez has pulled together an extremely simple collection of songs, exemplifying the low spirits and generalized frustration that makes the most enjoyable rainy indie-pop.
Comprised mainly of Gomez's voice, a guitar, and the occasional backing of a harmonica and some drumbeats, Picking You up Just to Put You Down is set apart by Gomez's steady hand in lo-fi production. The songs are refined, but not overly so, and he is a charmingly apathetic singer. The melodies are narrow and even repetitive, but new harmonies and the gentle instrumentation sound fresh and polished. No song stands particularly above the rest--the entire album is a slow course--but "P.O.P.E.Y.E" and "Who’s Walking Away" exemplify Gomez’s relaxed approach. The similarity of these songs to each other is not a detraction; it's a pleasure to simply let the album run its course.
Player Hater has all the spontaneity of the best ventures into indie pop, but Gomez’s balanced production keeps the music from wearing on one’s nerves. Having overcome the amusement of the band name, Picking You up Just to Put You Down turned out to be one of this year's hidden gems.
Beat the Indie Drum
"Learn To Love Hate" is what the band Player Hater asks us to do before we enter their website, "dontcallhome." Well, any CD that starts off with a harmonica is already part way to selling me (Hey, harmonica's been one of my favorite instruments since I fell into obsession with U2's The Joshua Tree). I will say that I'm developing a serious fondness for "hate," but I am not ready to declare this collection a "Joshua Tree." It takes more than a single instrument to declare an album great. "Learn To Love Hate" is, however, a nice way to spend a lackadaisical afternoon. "Lackadaisical," if that is an actual word and not something I made up when I was eight years old, is the word I would use to describe this music. It's lilting, lulling, and sometimes depressing. Don't listen to it while operating any machinery. Do listen to it while lying under a tree by a lake, feeling morose.
Player Hater is essentially one person, Jeff Gomez, though the liner notes list two additional musicians: Dan Keeler and Mark Damon Puckett, the first on bass guitar and the second on harmonica. The tracks were recorded in his apartment on an eight track, and though Gomez is a good musician and a very talented songwriter, the very low-tech approach hinders the production quality. His voice is often overpowed by the music and the vocals tend to be a bit flat and monotonous. Luckily he lists the lyrics on his website, or else there would be some parts of songs I'd never understand. The melodies don't always distinguish themselves either; sometimes it's hard for me to remember which song is which. For someone like me who's logged thousands of hours listening to The Smiths, Joy Division and other 'mope-rock' bands, though, a little languishing is preferred.
The music itself is lovely; Gomez is obviously a talented musician. I just wish for some of the songs he'd use other instruments in addition to guitar, bass guitar, keyboards and harmonica. Keyboards can add to a song, (yes, I loved Duran Duran growing up, but they also used drums and added other instruments when needed) but I've never been fond of keyboards when they make up the bulk of a track. The violin part of "They Might Be Assholes" (a great song--hopefully not in reference to They Might Be Giants) would've been better served with actual violins, instead of electronics. When Gomez does rely on instruments other than keyboard though, the result is often gorgeous. The most haunting guitar is in the song "Something for the Weakened," reminding me of Red House Painters--clear, yet slightly morose at the same time. The harmonica, I already mentioned, is a welcome addition to the record, and is particularly effective on the first song, "Popeye."
The lyrics are heartbreaking and all follow a theme--the album seems to be about a person who isn't comfortable just being his or herself. In "Popeye," the person can't "spend any time alone." In "Every Dream Can't Come True" (another favorite--and yes it has harmonica), most will be able to identify when he says "I just want you to stay...but I just don't know what to say." In the song "I'm Upset," he asks "how sad can one guy get?" (As most of us guys and girls know, the sky's the limit.)
The lyrics aren't always knife-worthy, however. Occasionally they are downright funny, as when he begins "Let's Hope This Time Is The Last Time" by singing "I have never done this before in my life, I have never started a song by repeating a first line twice." Then he goes on to repeat that line. Cheekiness will go far with me.
The most upbeat song is "Who's Walking Away," and I must admit this is one of my favorites. It's livelier than the rest of the tracks, and a bright spot is needed at this point over half-way through the album. The lyrics are still lamenting the end of a relationship, but the melody disregards the pain.
If your Vitamin B is already low and you're looking for a relaxing, light depression, this CD will take you to that place. I kid about the depression--this really is a very lovely album, and it will benefit anyone who likes sparse, soft indie music.
Three Imaginary Girls
by Chris Estey
Get away from the cracked mirror, it can't be fixed! Is it usefulness you seek to repair it to, or are you afraid of your own self-image? Let the hot air swarm you like a warm blanket, let the chilled gin flow through your insides, lie back and stare at the ceiling whilst listening to the lush strumming and humming of Player Hater—which has possibly the worst band name of late. Very good vocals, like an American Music Club without the ragged homoerotic Beatific cesspool of self-loathing and satire, or an always-heartbroken, non-feedback ballad Starflyer 59-style. Jeff Gomez seems to like himself, name of band regardless, and just wants to make some observations about selfish lovers.
by Dave Heaton
Player Hater's sort of like a less drunk, less dour, less cynical Arab Strap, but in a melodic country-ish setting...that is, sung/spoken short stories about people and their crazy lives, laidback yet potent, so they sneak up on you.
Man, someone prescribe this man some Prozac quick. Jeff Gomez, a novelist and singer/songwriter, recorded his lo-fi debut in his own apartment on only a digital eight-track. Although the songs are well sung and constructed, Jeff's somber mood makes me worried for his future well-being. After all, the world doesn't need another Elliot Smith suicide. This is music for people that enjoy hiding behind closed window shades.