Jerry Paper has always existed as a construct, a being of pure artifice. Songwriter Lucas Nathan constructed the guise as an alter-ego through which some of his strange ideas could come to fruition. Over time, that alter-ego has expanded in scope, branching out from the bedroom synth-pop of early records like Big Pop for Chameleon World and Carousel to broader, fuller sounds, all the while never losing Nathan’s penchant for the tragically strange. In many ways, Abracadabra is the most conventional-sounding Jerry Paper album yet, featuring a full backing band and traditionally soft-rock arrangements. However, as with everything Nathan composes as Jerry Paper, things aren’t what they seem.

If one was only familiar with Jerry Paper as a solo project replete with Casio synth instruments in place of real ones, Abracadabra is something of a shock. Those are, in fact, real guitars and drums on “Quicksand,” and this isn’t an outlier. Here, Nathan takes the jazz inflections he developed on his albums with BadBadNotGood and fuses them with a more MOR rock sound to create smooth, breezy compositions. The Steely Dan comparisons are inevitable, and they’re arguably apt for someone like Nathan, whose carefree exterior often disguises something odd and more conflicted underneath. Indeed, Abracadabra’s breezy exterior serves to temper Nathan’s lyrics, which deal with themes of anxiety and existential dread. These range from the mundane (“All I Need” recalls feelings of embarrassing oneself in social situations, a common occurrence that nevertheless fills so many of us with existential dread) to the more profound (“Memorial Highway” finds Nathan pondering about what his legacy will be after he’s gone). Abracadabra is occasionally an album filled with deep dread, but it frames that dread in such a sweet way that one barely notices it.

That sweetness occasionally works against Nathan, though. While Jerry Paper’s transition from weird synth project to weird full-band project is surprisingly seamless, there is a charm to those early records that is somewhat lost here. That isn’t to say that Abracadabra is indistinct in some way or that Nathan has lost sight of what made Jerry Paper such an interesting artistic proposition. Indeed, Nathan’s penchant for uncanny-valley synth horns and abstract lyrics hasn’t gone away. However, the smooth, jazzy arrangements, while pleasant to the ear, can blend together over time in a way that makes the songs indistinguishable from each other. Arguably, Jerry Paper’s persona works best when his weirdness is placed at the forefront, so this attempt to smooth him down into something more digestible may not be as successful as expected.

That having been said, Abracadabra is by far the most professional and accessible that Nathan’s music has ever been while still retaining the elements of Jerry Paper that made his work so compelling in the first place. As an introduction to Jerry Paper for an audience who may not have had his earlier work on their radar, it’s more than serviceable, and despite the album’s flaws, Nathan has done something quite remarkable in transitioning his pet project from a solo endeavor into something bigger. One can only hope that he remembers to stay weird.

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