The last time I saw the Gaskets perform was about two years ago and, as always, Ross Harman and Teddy Blanks owned the audience with just a synthesizer, vocals and some bold dance moves.
Harman often was as enthusiastic in person as he appeared onstage, which is why his recent suicide came as a shock to so many people in the community. In the days that followed the tragedy, Blanks compiled 17 of his friend's solo songs into this new CD, available for download from the Gaskets' website (thegaskets.com). This is the second album released under Harman's Ballpoint Pens moniker, and “Symphony” offers a collage of wounded pop songs, which build upon his work in the Gaskets.
You'll find those skittering Casio beats on “Only Love” and “I Will Find You,” but they're usually mashed up with acoustic and electric guitars, ala Beck or Kenna. Harman's singing voice is pensive yet confident, especially on the brooding indie-folk tunes “Missed Connections” and “Mark My Words.” On many tracks, his vocals are electronically treated or completely swallowed by swirling synths and bleeps, but perhaps the lyrics are veiled on purpose.
Even loudly defiant songs, such as the opener, “Vain,” reveal a gnawing sense of apprehension that overflows during “I Don't Know What You've Been Thinking” and “I Don't Need Your Symphony.” On “Fight for Your VCR” and “Cows on a Popemobile,” Harman dispenses short bits of wit and humor, the latter of which was used on a short DVD feature for the movie “Snakes On a Plane.” Ultimately, “Symphony” plays out as the musings of an individual trying to reconcile the highs and lows of a life lived with abandon. Determined to work it out on his own, Harman recorded everything himself using Garageband, and the CD's lo-fi production underscores a simple profundity in his words and his music.