Jeff Saphin – Time of the Signs

Jeff Saphin
Time of the Signs

With the Ides of March upon us, it seems to be a reasonable time to turn to all things prophetically apocalyptic. Interestingly, the history of popular music has frequently returned to themes of man’s coming doom. The Carter Family predicted the coming chaos way back in the 1930’s with “When This World is On Fire,” with the Louvin Brothers echoing their fears some 20 years later with visions of the world’s ultimate demise in “The Great Atomic Power.” Bob Dylan followed with “A Hard Rains A-Gonna Fall” and sat back and watched as his generation pumped out song after song that sought to portray Vietnam as the descending clouds of doom. From Pink Floyd’s The Wall to Radiohead’s Ok Computer, rock stars have loved to don the prophet’s garb and scrawl their premonitions of disaster on the proverbial walls of the rock canon. Jeff Saphin has elected himself as the next in line to attempt to decipher the changing winds.
Like all good albums of caustic rockers, Saphin’s vision is more than a little difficult to translate, but the drama and queasiness inherent in his outlook still manages to squeak through the cracks. With the big thudding bass lines and icy synth flutter of the title track, you can tell this is no laughing matter for Saphin. With words spoken with the enunciation that suggests great meaning, he portrays images of sexual nightmares, decaying future worlds, and bodies breaking down under the stress. Apparently a one-man orchestra, Saphin creates a nice array of ominous sounding synth collages, with a glistening production that belies the apparent ugliness of his intent.
As much as he can sound like David Bowie (or at least John Ludi), as mordant anthems like “I’m Not Gay” could almost be Ziggy Stardust outtakes, Saphin can also do a dead-on Bono impression, as evidenced by the sweet sweeping melodies of “Farah Waye.” The eerie dramatics of “Oh! Jupiter” create a jaunty whimsy that almost recalls Their Satanic Majesties Request-era Rolling Stones. In fact, Saphin’s penchant for a soaring hook are probably his greatest strength and go a long way to make up for his lack of startling originality, as tracks like “Angels and Aliens” and “DayGloHalo” fall snuggly into the genre of pleasantly blissful pop.
Of course, there is no way not to look at least slightly pretentious when making yourself an interpreter of visions. Saphin is not entirely immune to this dilemna, nor is he completely able to flesh out his coming demons in a mere seven tracks and 35+ minutes, either. Similarly, he’s certainly not the first and most likely won’t be the last to throw a wet blanket on the optimism of the future, but taken song by song, his focus doesn’t obscure the quality of the pop songwriting. And while the totality of his grandiose statement is ultimately hard to pin down, Saphin is largely successful in communicating his sense of uneasiness for the future and his penchant for dazzling melodies.