In an age when the news cycle seems endless and dreary, it’s almost impossible to relax. Queens-via-Buenos Aires musician Tall Juan’s track “Kaya,” off of 2017’s Olden Goldies, is a hazy ode to toking up. It's also a cover of Argentine post-punk band Sumo. Over echoing guitar, frontman Juan Zaballa sings about experiencing feelings of anger and regret — until he “smoked a little Kaya,” that is. With reverb-heavy vocals and instrumentation, the song gives off a dreamlike quality. In the new video for the track, Zaballa nervously watches the news. In an effort to cheer himself up, he smokes a joint and is subsequently enveloped in a thick cloud of smoke as a mysterious blonde woman appears with a tray of donuts. The surreal video ends when the woman takes a hit, and begins to stuff donuts into Zaballa’s mouth.
Zaballa tells AdHoc that while arranging his cover of Sumo's “Kaya," he “took one line and repeated it twice.” He says that there are many ways to interpret the lyrics, and that there’s not a single, specific meaning he wants listeners to take away. Watch the video below, and catch Tall Juan with Mysterly Lights and Future Punx at Market Hotel (appropriately) on April 20.
If brevity is the soul of wit, Juan Zaballa is one clever fellow. As Tall Juan, the Argentinian rocker emulates garage rock heroes like the Ramones with sprint-to-the-finish-line songs that rarely stretch beyond two minutes. His new EP, Joya Nedo, begins with a sample from a boxing match, as the ringside bell dings three times and an announcer says, “And here we go, round one!” With that, it’s off to the races for “Nine To Fight,” which gingerly gallops forward for one minute before the drums kick into overdrive. As quickly as it comes, the screaming crowd from the boxing match fades back in and the song is over, but the fight of the album is ever present. The title itself stems from a larger sense of fighting that stretches beyond its allusions to boxing. According to Tall Juan, "Joya Nedo is an expression me and some people use from where I was born [in San Antonio de Padua] when something is ok, or cool. On this EP, I wanted to talk about transvestism, this area in Jackson Heights called Vaseline Alley, where with friends we used to go at night just to check it out. Or about getting mad by not being free to immigrate or emigrate somewhere. About fights or when people don't know what they want and they try to make you unsecure."
While Joya Nedo retains the lo-fi energy of Tall Juan’s debut LP from May, Olden Goldies, the production is a little cleaner and offers a more balanced mix. It's easy to pigeonhole Tall Juan as a Ramones worshipper, but the Far Rockaway transplant’s guitar chord progressions outmatch the Forest Hills band’s in terms of complexity, even if it’s only by a little bit. The strongest of the four tracks also happens to be the EP’s longest. Clocking in at 2:12, “Out Of Town” allows Zaballa a little more space to immerse the listener into the rockabilly song’s slacker love story. “With nothing else to do, I guess I will follow you,” Zaballa sings, embodying a head-bopping Mac Demarco.
On Olden Goldies, Tall Juan mixes things up. The ecstatic rock n’ roll stylings of his latest transmission on BUFU Records resonate with the playfully inverted title of the record: on Olden Goldies, Argentinian-born Far-Rockaway transplant Tall Juan mines a sound reminiscent of the golden oldies of AM radio scuzz—but, not without reverence, warps the sound and structure of a racially and sonically exclusive genre with his Spanish lyrics and casual brashness. This nonchalantly progressive attitude, always tinged with a cocksure enthusiasm, colors the resplendent Olden Goldies with an insouciance tinged with loss and hardship—of drug addiction, heartbreak, and immigration—that Juan bats away with a grin. But beneath this grin scratches, yelps, and yawps Juan’s inimitable voice, a testament to both his Latin roots and his new digs in Queens.
Ranging from a youthful squeal on “Time Bomb” to the soaring spaciousness on the reconciliatory “Kaya” to the introspective melodiousness on slow-burning closer “Take Your Time,” Juan’s versatile voice jaunts with the listener through a rollicking subway ride around Juan’s geographies and relationships. Although Tall Juan may “not know what to do” as he maintains on “I Don’t Know What To Do,” our next step, as listeners of Olden Goldies, is clear: to canonize Juan along with the rockstars of the golden oldies, celebrating both his virtuosity—comparable to classic rock’s standard-bearers—and his visionary rejuvenation of a dormant genre.