The musky sound of deep, soul-stirring vocals has always found a clear calling in folk music. Where Johnny Cash and Tom Waits once made their mark steering the musical genre to its rawest rock form, Case Studies, a solo project by Seattle-based independent musician Jesse Lortz, has recently picked up the challenge. Formerly a member of the short-lasted, yet well-loved duo, The Dutchess and the Duke, Case Studies began its own reign this past August, releasing his first LP on Brooklyn label, Sacred Bones Records, titled The World Is Just A Shape To Fill The Night. The record, as suggested by the name, carries a sense of despondency or apathy towards the ways of life, and at its core, has a lonesome feel. Yet such mystique and introspection give it a deeply beautiful feel and allow the melody to patiently weave its thread through every song.
No freshman to the scene, Lortz is as enterprising as he is musically astute. In 2002, at the onset of his first band, he created his own record label, Boom Boom Party Records, while simultaneously forming a punk trio as a side gig. He’s been the pride of Seattle’s blogs and elite music aficionados, and his talent is such that where one effort lays off, another soon begins. At a glimpse, he embodies that classic Northwest sophisticated grunge: tossed, rocker hair; beard and mustache; tattoos and hipster chic glasses. With The Dutchess and the Duke, an endeavor he took on with a friend, it took but a few live showcases before he was signed to Sub Pop’s affiliate label, Hardly Art, and had music featured on HBO’s acclaimed Entourage.
Then and now, his sound has been described as influenced by ‘60s garage rock and the early Stones, however his latest effort as Case Studies has more of the backcountry blues feel Cash erected in the late ‘50s/early ‘60s. The album heavily emphasizes Lortz’ staggering, rich vocals over a minimalist guitar, while backup female echoes offer a simple harmonic contrast. Organic and subtle, the production on this album shies away from much of today’s fancier, synthetic technique, coming across more rough, Dylan-like in the process. The effect creates a yearning, almost haunting effect on the record, as many of the songs like “Texas Ghost Story,” and “The Eagle or the Serpent” stretch into places beyond static world limits.
The World’s more upbeat tracks like “Skirt” and “Secrets” pull pop flavor and group emphasis into the mix, much in the way Edward Sharpe has done with his band the Magnetic Zeros. Lortz has been known to write songs about autobiographical experiences, and this record appears no different. Darkness being an overall theme, Case Studies examines the idea of encapsulating a field for the lonely and the wandering, the more forlorn side of life, and that perhaps the only ray of light may be love. In his first video release for “Lies,” we watch as our protagonist – who never shows his face – travels a lazy afternoon into a Seattle summer with a string of free-spirited, laughing girlfriends. They drive; they try on sunglasses; they laugh on blankets and take pictures by a lake. It’s all the makings of a romantic film, and suggest Lortz’ weakness is certainly his heart.
Like his album, Case Studies as an emerging artist takes on many shapes and sizes, and he will be one to follow as each layer unfolds.