Enjoying Jason Charles Beck, aka Chilly Gonzales’ Ivory Tower is a hell of a lot easier than trying to explain to someone who he is and why you like him. Thankfully the artist himself assists with the thought that his life may be “a B-movie shot by Tim Burton” in the rap version of ‘Never Stop’.
Beck is a self-taught though later classically-trained pianist who has had operated in may different guises over the last 15 to 20 years. Also an acclaimed producer, he was heavily involved in Feist’s 2003 breakthrough album Let It Die and his love of lounge pop evident in his claim that the Bee Gees cover on that album was his doing. This loungey feel certainly runs as a thread through Ivory Tower but the somewhat bar-pianist schtick that Chilly serves up is tongue-in-cheek without being mocking, and the mostly instrumental songs here are so bursting with his own “hairy, sweating jew” character that you can’t help but enjoy the warm feeling. Though a little like peeing yourself on a cold day, you’re not sure if you should be enjoying it.
The opening track ‘Knight Moves’ sets his stall out – a melancholy piano beginning turns into a funky, cheery lounge number with some ooh-aah female vocals, a little synth and Chilly straddling the piano. This mood continues into ‘I Am Europe’ and we hear the man speak his now infamous collection of Euro-references (“a toilet with no seat, flushing tradition down”) finally culminating in the song title, a silence, the chime of a small bell and then back to the groove.
The album blends many instrumental tracks, all lead by his unquestionable skills as a pianist (and all laced with humour) with some grade-a ‘70s pop moments (‘You Can Dance’). Chilly raps pun-tastically through a few songs too. These are the funniest moments but perhaps the ones that wear out sooner than others on repeat listening.
It’s a party album of sorts – a flippant one in some ways, but musically excellent and infectiously upbeat. If you’re lucky enough to have seen him live you’ll realise that every note drips with Chilly, this genre-dodging, lounge pianist on acid.