Tuesday, February 11th, 2020

Tenille Townes – Jersey on the Wall (I’m Just Asking)

Here are your answers.


Thomas Inskeep: Townes asks questions of God in light of the death of a high school student, and does so directly and poignantly, with smart, simple production backing her up (acoustic guitar, organ, piano). Having the song not be a ballad is smart, too; its movement helps it along.

Alfred Soto: It accumulates power with each instrumental addition, and the young Tenille Townes doesn’t go for bathos — that’s the lyric’s job. 

Brad Shoup: Combines the tail-thump of the last decade’s filter-folk with a chorus that reads like the children of “Dear God” wrote “Dear God.” I know I should probably be in therapy, but I’m much more interested in the mom that’s muddling through than Townes’ high-school teleology.

Julian Axelrod: That is a hard swerve into Colton Burpo territory. Twist aside, I like Townes’s voice; it’s world-weary and naive enough to sell the song more than it deserves. But it’s hard to embrace her “aw shucks” approach to dead teenagers. That parenthetical feels mighty defensive.

Iain Mew: I’m frustrated by this song because it’s so close to being great but falls short in what seem like obvious ways. The musical sweep of it works perfectly: the way it starts by treading softly but swells with an appropriate sense of inevitability to the plaintive emotion in “I’m just asking.” Lyrically the first verse and the simultaneous distancing and fondness in referring to the departed as “twenty-seven” does a good job in setting it up, too, and the “Do You Realize??” naivety in “how do you keep this big rock spinnin’?” is cheesy but in the best way. But the uniform craft of the music isn’t matched by a lyrical consistency. When she goes from speculation about yearbooks to certainty about the crash it makes it distractingly difficult to position her place in the story and just how personal it is, and “are you angry when the Earth quakes” is a complete clunker, a question posed the wrong way round that pushes whimsy at exactly the wrong moment. I wish she got out of her own way a bit better.

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Automatically gets points for being about questions and not answers. When it’s over, I’m left with a reminder of the sadness that everyone feels after a personal tragedy; it’s better than the false satisfaction of easy answers.

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