You could never question Jay Watson’s psych-rock bona fides. The man’s resume, of course, includes Tame Impala, the band that implausibly made the leap from being weirdo hallucinogenic rockers from western Australia to arena-conquerors worldwide. But all along the way, Watson also played in Pond, Tame’s sister band. And alongside that, he’s been putting out solo albums as GUM since 2014. His latest, Out In The World, is out today.
Out In The World is the fifth GUM album, and probably the most cohesive album-length experience Watson’s crafted yet. Along the way, he’s always clearly been adept at wrangling warped, bugged-out sonic textures in his music. But there’s a certain sun-flecked, washed-out atmosphere that hangs over Out In The World. Given the title and the directions Watson’s life has taken so far, you could hear it as a person traveling the world and filtering far-flung places through kaleidoscopic memories. You can sense the haze hanging over the stint in LA that influenced the album’s opener; you can imagine the vibrant sky out near Perth.
While there’s no lack of intoxicating textures across the album, Out In The World also features a whole lot of memorable songs. “Weightless In L.A.” kicks off the album in a disembodied cloud representing Watson’s drifting layover in that city, “Airwalkin'” is a gooey electronic-tinged funk gurgle, “The Thrill Of Doing It Right” and “Many Tears To Cry” are classicist rock balladry that feel both glimmering and lived-in. Then there’s the album’s title track, a dazed daydream of a pop song with a faraway but surprisingly big chorus that quickly becomes impossible to get out of your head.
But it wouldn’t be quite accurate to call Out In The World some poppier turn from GUM. It’s still a frazzled, bleary psych-rock endeavor with more than a couple unsuspected left turns, like the digitized Latin-tinged groove of “Low To Low” or the way closer “You Make Your Own Luck” rides out into all kinds of wacky sounds, as if to suggest the discursive adventures still to be taken. Altogether, it’s the kind of album that sounds great on the sort of humid, blurry summer days we’re entering into.
Ahead of Out In The World’s arrival, Watson shared some thoughts with us about each song on the album. Now that they’re all, um, out in the world, you can read along as you give the album a first listen.
1. “Weightless In L.A.”
JAY WATSON: I wrote and recorded this song while I was living in Los Angeles for six months. I had an amazing time but I couldn’t shake this feeling that it wasn’t real life, like I was underwater in a swimming pool. Blissed out and weightless but detached or something. I feel like it captures the joy and the darkness and the bizarreness of the city well for me though.
WATSON: I made this up years ago when I was staying at my parents house in North Queensland, well the beat at least. I was obsessed with Dilla and Madlib at the time and was doing my best impression of those guys. It ended up sounding more like ’90s Prince or something. This is one of those songs where I enjoy listening to it, but I have no idea if it’s really cool or really guilty. Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith and put it out though. The song is trying to capture the feeling of walking down the street with my Discman when I was a kid, really feeling myself.
3. “Out In The World”
WATSON: This is another song that I was unsure of for a while, but is now one of my favorites. I just kept trying to make it more washed out and less direct, but the song wouldn’t let me. I think that was for the best in the end. This was probably one of the easier songs on the record to make, and incidentally is one of the easiest to listen to, and I like that about it.
4. “The Thrill Of Doing It Right”
WATSON: This song is about the inner force it takes to admit when you’re wrong. It’s a trait that separates my favorite people from my least favorite people. I don’t know what this song sounds like, I can’t describe it to people. Homemade arena rock? REO Speedwagon in a tin can?
5. “Many Tears To Cry”
WATSON: This one is probably my favorite on the record. It’s the first time I’ve deliberately tried to make the vocals sound as nice as I can, rather than obscure them with EQ and effects. It was a real challenge making a song that sounded that clear and hi-fi that I was still proud of. I couldn’t tell you what it was about specifically, but it means a lot to me.
6. “Alphabet Soup”
WATSON: Gibberish lyrics that mean more to me every time I hear them back. There are a few lines that are deliberate but mostly it’s just train of thought. My first “riff” in a while — I can’t really write riffs that are good enough anymore — but this one I was pretty happy with. Multi-tracked with synths, guitar, and glockenspiel.
7. “Don’t Let It Go Out”
WATSON: I’ve had the opening guitar arpeggio riff since the first GUM record, but I’ve never been able to fit it in. All of my records are a mix of things from years ago, and things I came up with while I was recording them. Another song I find hard to describe stylistically, but this is a good thing. My music for years was an obvious sum of it’s influences but it’s getting harder and harder to pick.
8. “Down The Dream”
WATSON: Inspired by British psych-folk and Eno, this was incredibly hard to record and mix “right.” Maybe the song I worked on the longest and ironically sounds the most tossed together and homemade.
9. “Low To Low”
WATSON: This song came about just because I bought a new drum machine, the EHX DRM15. This was one of the preset beats in there and from that this whole “robot-Latin” thing came from it. Lots of Spring Reverb. Another bizarre song stylistically, but I just went with it. Recorded at the very last minute before I finished the record.
10. “You Make Your Own Luck”
WATSON: This is a song to me. Obviously “you make your own luck” would seem like rubbish to a lot of people, especially people who have to work through prejudice to succeed. But it’s just a reminder for myself that wallowing will get you nowhere, and you’ve got to work hard if you wanna get stuff done. I compare my own music to a lot of other people’s work and it it’s endlessly intimidating. But you’ve gotta push through that feeling and put stuff out anyway.
Out In The World is out now on Spinning Top.