CD Review: Jonathan Rundman – Look Up

CD Review: Jonathan Rundman  Look Up
Salt Lady Records
All Access Rating: A-

Jonathan Rundman - Look Up 2015
Absence has only made the heart grow fonder for Jonathan Rundman's brand of intelligently designed and altogether charming power-pop. His first album in a decade, Look Up will make you wish he'd come around more often.

A native of Michigan's Upper Peninsula now based in Minneapolis, the multi-instrumentalist has assembled a who's who of the Twin Cities' finest musicians to help him realize his vision of a lush, warmly modern world of sound with plenty of room at the inn for traditional folk sketches such as the spare, haunting "Home Unknown." All of it holds the wonderfully told tales of Look Up in a loving and empathetic embrace, Rundman's easy grace and search for simple, lasting truths born of a hopeful theology and the inexplicable wonders of art and science.

Providing most of the instrumental support are Owl City guitarist Jasper Nephew, Sara Bareilles drummer Steve Goold, bassist Ian Allison (Jeremy Messersmith), and Leagues guitarist Tyler Burkum. Other guests include frequent collaborator Walter Salas-Humara of The Silos, as well as guitarist Parthenon Huxley of Eels and ELO, and vocalist Brent Bourgeois of Bourgeois Tagg and Todd Rundgren, among others. And while the cast is, indeed, impressive, it's Rundman's evocative lyrics, his deep sincerity, his brainy curiosity about the world and its unknowable secrets, and gift for penning affecting, indelible melodies that make Look Up absolutely sparkle.

Released this past winter but made for long summer drives with no particular destination, although the icy waters of "The Ballad of Nikolaus Rungius" – the beautifully rendered, multi-layered history of a beloved vicar, the hardships of his parish and a "holy mystery" – could bring on hypothermia, Look Up pops the top on fizzy, electric rushes like "Flying On A Plane," "Helicopters of Love," "The Science of Rockets" and "Prioritize Us" that bubble up like a shaken bottle of soda.

Comparisons to Fountains Of Wayne are inevitable, but a lot of Look Up seems to have distant relations to the music of John Vanderslice, his intimate, space-age production values, flowing melodies and ability to spin compelling yarns born again in Rundman's work. When the spirit moves him, however, as it does in "Painter" and the autumnal "Second Shelf Down," Rundman seems naturally inclined to wander purposefully in the cloudy harmonies and gossamer acoustic sweeps of Simon & Garfunkel, and on "Home Unknown," he plays all the instruments, from harmonium to banjo and mandola and probably 12 more that aren't even listed.

Don't be such a stranger, Jonathan. You're welcome here any time.
– Peter Lindblad

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