Jake Robertson has been in some bands: School Damage, Hierophants, Leather Towel, Modal Melodies, SWAB, to name a few. He is perhaps best known for his time in the insouciant Ausmuteants, a group from the early 2010s who garnered fans worldwide for their no-frills take on synth-punk. But the restless punk stalwart seems to have hit a particularly rich creative vein with his solo project, Alien Nosejob. Since 2017, Robertson has issued records at a breakneck pace, from the raw yet hooky classic punk of 2020’s Suddenly Everything Is Twice as Loud to the new-wave-inspired 2021’s Paint It Clear to the glam rippers on 2022’s Stained Glass. He’s got the songwriting chops to draw out what makes these vintage sounds so special, bringing vibrancy to musical ground that has been mined to near-depletion. In an interview with Still in Rock, he describes his style-hopping thusly: “Sometimes I wish I had the focus to concentrate on one sound at a time, but I don’t. I’m part of the microwave generation. I want three meals in three minutes, or I’m not eating.”
Robertson’s latest, The Derivative Sounds Of... or... A Dog Always Returns to Its Vomit, plays specifically with the garage-pop sound of the mid ’60s. As is typical for him, it’s incredibly self-aware but doesn’t take itself too seriously. He may be looking backwards for inspiration, but it’s clear that the album’s title is pushing against the on-the-nose nostalgia of the ’90s and ’00s retro garage boom, which often didn’t question the regressive sexism and racism of the sound’s “trash” tropes. Instead of recreating the past, he carefully teases out the sonic details from the style that hit for maximum satisfaction, and weaves them together tightly in his own signature manner.
Robertson is excellent at self-editing, and these songs are brash and bright and economical. They’re fun, with an underpinning of melancholy both teens and teens-at-heart will recognize as key to growing up in a chaotic world—which has been pop’s primary concern ever since the invention of the teenager as a discrete category. On “Act Different,” a rickety but catchy tune with a warbling, chorus-heavy guitar line, Robertson describes the simple feeling of alienation from one’s peers and how comforting it can be to retreat: “When you’re alone/You can be yourself.”
Beneath the easy approachability of his music, there’s clearly careful craft at work. Opener “I’m Lost,” which rails against people caught up in their own hype, has a thrilling percussive breakdown to highlight the impact of its simple minor-key chord progression. “Ariel View” has a groovy little organ part to rival the Standells, and the lovelorn “There Was a Time I Called Her Name” features delightful psychedelic guitar flourishes. Rather than feeling like studied mimicry, these tracks have a charming lack of professionalism—Robertson’s falsetto on “There Was a Time I Called Her Name” sounds constantly on the verge of cracking—and the genuine enthusiasm of the original wave of garage rockers, kids who were simply excited to be able to pick up newly accessible electric instruments and make a racket together. Consider it home-cooked, with love.