Jai Agnish
Gig Seeker Pro

Jai Agnish

| INDIE

| INDIE
Band Folk Singer/Songwriter

Calendar

This band hasn't logged any future gigs

This band hasn't logged any past gigs

This band has not uploaded any videos
This band has not uploaded any videos

Music

The best kept secret in music

Press


As a close friend of and collaborator with the gossamer folk visionary Sufjan Stevens, journalist/musician Jai Agnish has a literate, grainy sound that's tough to pin down--combining loops reminiscent of Philip Glass with programmed electronic textures, acoustic guitar and a wobbly, compelling singing voice. Marimba enters the mix on "Changes," a song where the drum machine crackles like a backfiring jalopy and the mood suggests a frolic through a valley of sun-splattered tinsel. "Yellow Balloon" has a hypnotic groove worthy of its playful title, and "Known You" strips away the dense layers to a foundational guitar and vocal, creating a frail folk gem worth of big-sky daydreams and prayers: "Everything is known to you/ Even before I speak a word/ Even before I make my move/ Here's to wishing that I had known you much better than that." - Chicago Tribune


If there is one weakness I have as a reviewer, it is my penchant for steel drums. Whether it’s real steel drums or just a convincing synth effect, like Jai Agnish uses on Mechanical Sunshine, makes no difference. I love those things; they’re like the musical manifestation of a breezy summer afternoon. Agnish uses the steel drums, and other electronic toys, to great effect on Mechanical Sunshine, building up both playful, cheery melodies and mournful indie-pop.

Much like the Mobius Band, Jai Agnish experiments with drum machines and looping layered underneath lonely lyrics of love and loss. Occasionally, like on “Spaceship” and “Can You Fly”, Agnish is accompanied vocally by Julie Bryant, and the result is achingly pretty. On the hip-hop influenced “All I Ever Dreamed Of”, Agnish teams up with JS Rockit, who lets loose some suprisingly decent rhymes that fit nicely over Agnish’s delicate moans and hypnotic guitar and drum sample. It’s a shame Agnish couldn’t cajole his old buddy and former band mate Sufjan Stevens (whom some of you may have heard of, possibly) to back him, but I’m sure Sufjan didn’t have the time. After all, he’s got forty-eight more states to tackle.

For those who don’t particularly care for electronic and toy music, Agnish manages to vary his instrumentation enough so as to avoid becoming a bore. For all of its computer bleeps and blops, Mechanical Sunshine holds a special place in its heart for melancholy song writing and acoustic folk guitar. Agnish croons with such heart- every lyric drips with beauty and sorrow. Mechanical Sunshine’s layers work on the same level that Postal Service’s Give Up works, but much more naked and raw. When stripped of all the electronic dressing, Mechanical Sunshine stands tall as an exemplary work of real artistic expression. - Delusions of Adequacy


Don't call it a comeback

Jai Agnish reemerges from hiatus as a paradox

By Lani Buess
Wednesday, July 26, 2006; Posted: 12:00 pm EST
Sound: Indie/folk/experimental

Album: “Mechanical Sunshine,” second full-length album
to date.


Theirspace: jaiagnish.com, myspace.com/jaiagnish

Jai Agnish is mild-mannered and mumbles under his breath. In his jeans and plain tee he doesn't exude that rock 'n' roll hard-living, hard-drinking lifestyle. Sid Vicious-style debauchery doesn't seem to be on this Christian's agenda.

Instead, Agnish tinkers with Fisher-Price toys. The solo artist extracted lo-fi beats from musical keychains, plastic spaceships and furry stuffed animals to project a naïve innocence and expound on love, longing and loss in his early electro-pop music.

But after bouts with creative burnout and frustration over not landing a deal, Agnish - once called the second coming of Nick Drake by the Village Voice - took a public hiatus from early 2003 to late 2005. He would reemerge this year with a new style that is paradoxically more mature, but still childlike.

Agnish's new CD, titled "Mechanical Sunshine," features a taste of his new four-piece band sound, but is mostly a retrospective of his history in experimental music.

"I was fascinated with found sounds... and merging it with organic human-created music to see how far could you push it," said Agnish, 29, of West Milford. "I'm more conscious now of not how my music comes off, but more conscious of my lyric writing. I have grown a lot too, on my outlook, on why I make music."

Agnish's love for music began in middle school when he began taking guitar lessons and training his ear to play Guns N' Roses and Rush tunes.

At around 15, Agnish started emulating the musical approach taken by Lou Barlow of Sebadoh and Dinosaur Jr., though he used the "poor man's version" of Barlow's high-tech toys. He started multi-tracking his music by using archaic boom boxes and drum machines to get a grainy, raw sound.

Agnish initially created music strictly for himself.

"I did it in my bedroom," he said. "I never really shared my music with anyone."

As creator of the independent and widely distributed fanzine Flygirl, Agnish slowly introduced the masses to his music with the song "Petty Cash" in a 1998 compilation he created to accompany an issue of his 'zine.

In 2000, Agnish released his full-length debut, "Automata," under his own label, Blue Bunny Records.

"I had this unexplainable drive to share my music with people," he said. "It's a very ego-maniac thing to do, to self-release your own CD and assume anyone else would want to hear it. But I guess I believed people would enjoy it and I felt compelled to get my music out there in some capacity."

The CD received critical acclaim from Pitchfork, The Village Voice, Newsweek and The Boston Globe, amongst others. The Voice even said Agnish "just might be the reincarnation of Nick Drake."

In ways, Agnish is like the introverted English folksinger who passed away in the 70s. The scratchy-voiced crooner never seems totally at ease, as his voice crackles against catchy electronic samples and verbally dissects the complexities of life.

That dejected odd-man-out persona that hangs on the notion of a silver lining is a reason why listeners may gravitate toward the meek musician.

But tracks like "Jesus Song" on "Automata," gigs at the now-defunct Christ-A-Go-Go festival (where shiny, happy God-loving people met and made music), and collaborations with experimental and folk-faith singers Daniel Smith and Sufjan Stevens may put off some listeners to Agnish's music. That doesn't concern him in the slightest.

"I make music and I'm a Christian," he said. "I don't like to label myself as a Christian musician."

"I'm not worried about how my religious beliefs may or may not determine if someone buys my CD," Agnish said. "I just don't care at all. Either you like my music or you don't. I'm not about converting anyone or subtly manipulating people to believe what I believe. I'm all about making the music first, expressing who I am; [someone] whose worldview is that of a Catholic Christian."

That heartfelt fervor waned in 2003, however. After a successful debut, Agnish called it quits due to music biz burnout and potential label deals going bust.

"I really lost the love of just picking up a guitar, writing a song and playing it," he said. "It had become about wanting to further my music career rather than writing a really good song."

Seeing his one-time opening act, Stevens, gain greater recognition bruised Agnish's self-esteem further.

"I was jealous of Sufjan for a while, but I got over that," said Agnish. "I always wanted the best for him."

Agnish gradually reemerged on the music scene. Oddly enough, Stevens was the facilitator.

Asthmatic Kitty, Stevens' label, created a compilation titled "Mews Too." Label founders Stevens and Lowell Brams (Stevens' former stepfather) requested that an Agnish track be secured a slot on the CD, which was released this year.

"That meant something to me because by then they were clearly established," he said of the Asthmatic Kitty collaborators.

With that needed morale boost, Agnish retrieved his unfinished and polished recordings that accumulated between 2000 and 2005 and released them under the label ClerestoryAV as "Mechanical Sunshine."

The tracks overall are in keeping with Agnish's Atari-esque blips and beeps. It's only until the last few tracks that listeners get a glimpse into the sound Agnish is currently peddling in '06.

Moving away from machines and solo artistry, Agnish is instead opting for an indie rock sound with a full-bodied four-piece band dubbed Jai Agnish and The Callbacks, which consists of Agnish (vocals/songwriter/guitar), Michael "Willie" Williamson (bass/vocals), Sean Walker (guitar/vocals) and Justin Walker (drums/vocals).

"Automata's" emotionally wrenching lyrics have also been replaced with more "fantastical and literal" topics in "Mechanical Sunshine." Even spiritual subject matters, like the track "Known You," based on Psalm 139, are obscurely conveyed.

However, like a man whose muse is toys, Agnish's songs still portray a picture of innocence, seeing life with youthful eyes. His CD covers exemplify this: "Automata's" cover displayed young children running in a field; "Mechanical Sunshine" consists of a childlike drawing of a boy in a yellow balloon.

"The artwork represents the mood of the album it represents," said Agnish. "Kidlike, playful, fun and innocent; it's just me." - EXIT Weekly


Up until recently I had only heard the name Jai Agnish mentioned in conjunction with the likes of Danielson Famile and Sufjan Stevens. Luckily, that changed through a random myspace add by Mr. Agnish and I instantly fell in love with his quirky brand of electro-folk. Jai’s latest album is Mechanical Sunshine and it is due out in July on Clerestory AV.

The opening track Mr. Mission sets the basic mood for the rest of the album. Its mash up of Postal Service style electronic soundscapes mixed with accoustic folk and a wide-eyed, reflective delivery reminescent of Steve Burns makes for an interesting listen. Even with the mood set, Agnish knows how to tweak something just a bit or toss in a random toy instrument to make things new and fresh with each song. What may seem an odd paring between himself and rapper/producer JS Rockit (Rockit also handles some programming duties) on the song All I Ever Dreamed Of even works well on some levels. However, I feel he is at his best solo or with Julie Bryant’s lovely voice backing him up on various songs throughout the album.

The Village Voice has mentioned Jai “might be the reincarnation of Nick Drake, who … decided to lock himself in his room and OD on a sampler, guitar, and some Fisher-Price instruments.” To me this description sums it up well. Simplicity and complexity collide with the end result being excellent. Any fan of Postal Service, Steve Burns or Half Handed Cloud should enjoy this album immensely. - BuzzGrinder


Discography

Jai Agnish - Automata (Blue Bunny Records)
Jai Agnish / Gospel Zombie - Our Split EP (Men of Israel)
Jai Agnish - Mechanical Sunshine (ClerestoryAV)
8.21 - A Blue Bunny Compilation (Blue Bunny Records)
Mews Too (compilation - Asthmatic Kitty)

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

After releasing his critically acclaimed electro-poppin' debut, Automata in 2000, Jai Agnish dropped off the map and fled back to his bed-room where music making all began for him. He needed time to fall in love with making music again after a bout with music biz burn out and a busy newspaper reporter schedule at odds with the rock n' roll night life.

He did emerge, receiving a morale boost earlier this year from his friend and former band-mate, Sufjan Stevens, who included one of Agnish's songs on the Mews Too Asthmatic Kitty compilation.

At the turn of the year, Agnish built a MySpace site where he re-connected with peers, friends and fans. Agnish also took an editor job that enabled him to start performing regularly again. A fan of his who had just begun a new indie label came across Agnish on MySpace and asked if he'd like to work with him.

ClerestoryAV released Mechanical Sunshine, a 15-song collection of material Agnish recorded between 2000 and 2005, on July 25.

The songs pick up where Automata left off, furthering his vision of man and machines that began, we think, with Kraftwerk in the 1980s.

Agnish kicks out drum machine beats and melody lavishly spreading a thick layer of pop atop it all. Songs emerge from this cheerful experiment rich, lovely, and profoundly odd.

Its an approach that inspired the Village Voice to write that Agnish "might be the reincarnation of Nick Drake, who this time around decided to lock himself in his room and OD on a sampler, guitar, and some Fisher-Price instruments." The Toronto Star described him as a "21st Century descendent of Nick Drake or Leonard Cohen who employs electronics to greatly expand the performance potential of folks typical guy-with-a-guitar format." Pitchfork wrote, "Agnish blends electronics, toys, and folk into a chalice and offers it to you as a gift."