Jonathan Rado

Every week, another legend drops dead. And if our sources are correct, it’s just going to keep happening. Jonathan Rado’s For Who The Bell Tolls For is maximalist mourning for the loss of two such legends. YES AND — it is funny as hell. YES AND — it is also not a joke. YES AND — it’s got one foot on a banana peel and another kicking the Devil in the arse. Bleak Strategies. The Afterlife of Pablo. And tho I may rollerblade through the Valley of Death, I will fear no Eno.
Before Rado realized he was making a full-on album reckoning with the loss of two dear friends — mentor, producer Richard Swift and illustrator/animator Danny Lacy, both untethering from this planet within a year of one another — he gave the album its title. He only endeavored to lose himself in the making of a new, experimental music with no final intention, to fully give himself over to the art and see what happened. Friends would come over to his studio to fuck around; make chords and sounds. Rado would take these pieces and roll ‘em like Play-Doh logs, squish ‘em between his fingers, press ‘em into new forms (“I didn’t know I was even making an album. And I guess I couldn’t even express anything into words then,” Rado said. “Just expressing whatever with production and a musical language.”)
But ever-so-slowly, something of a tribute album began to emerge. “But eww, no, not a tribute album,” Rado would say to himself. “Not that dreck.” So he did it his way. The result is not the sappy hot garbage you’d expect from such a musical eulogy. We’ve all heard them. For Who The Bell Tolls For is more irreverent and sly. It’s full of confidence, bravado, and yes, again, yucks.
That’s not to say For Who The Bell Tolls For isn’t also a Capital-T TRIBUTE ALBUM. Sorry, Rado, there’s no getting out of it. “Easier” borrows directly from The Richard Swift Songbook of Chords and Tempo (itself pulled from Tin Pan Alley classics). “You made it easier,” Rado croons over jaunty piano, speaking of course to the rough-and-tumble methods of production Swift imbued upon Yung Rado back when his band Foxygen recorded an album in Swift’s studio National Freedom back in 2012. But in saying “You made it easier” there’s a little saltiness. Rado’s also saying “Now, in your absence, you’ve made it harder.” It’s heavier than meets the ear. Now put that in your jazz apple and smoke it. Album closer “Yer Funeral” pulls from Swift’s personal vernacular and the bucolic, yard sale painting on whose dilapidated barn he scrawled a “YER MOM” in White Out on its broadest side. “I wanted to use Swift’s stupid language,” Rado said. “I always felt like he had a levity when it came to serious situations, for better or worse.” The glammy, T. Rex romp of “Blue Moon” seems to call out to Lacy, who pushed friends away in darker times.
“Mostly, the songs started to be meditations on both Swift and Danny,” Rado admits.
He found inspiration in Eno’s 1970s rock albums, Eno’s Oblique Strategies and the back-to-back masterpieces of ‘Yeezus’ and ‘Life of Pablo.’ “I love the story of Rick Rubin getting the final mix of ‘Yeezus’ and just muting a ton of tracks,” Rado said. Rado is pushing at the edges of everything he’s done before, both as a performer and producer. Look no further than on “Walk Away” a jazzy, epic dirge that would be right at home in the Another Green World Expanded Universe. There’s a primal yalp and a mature self-confidence on For Who The Bell Tolls For. The album looks ever forward and so therein is also a tribute album to those of us left standing. We living who have to muster on with humor and a wobbly grace until our own number is drawn.