Jordan Bleau had an epiphany while listening to Carly Rae Jepsen.
“For a long time I wouldn’t have allowed myself to enjoy something like that, because it wasn’t a certain way aesthetically,” says the former frontman for local garage-punk heroes Frankie Teardrop. “It’s specifically engineered for the most amount of people to enjoy it. Scientifically—those chord progressions and melodies—you’re supposed to enjoy that stuff. It was like, why am I denying myself this?”
After Hell Yep marked the end of Frankie Teardrop in 2016, Bleau pondered taking his music in a new direction. He was listening to Jepsen’s Emotion, and something clicked.
“I want to make music like that, where a lot of people can enjoy it, and hopefully make people dance,” he adds. “Just make it accessible for as many people as possible.”
Under the name Cheap Fantasy, Bleau has traded in Frankie Teardrop’s scuffed-up guitar riffs for dreamy electronics, and the tracks on the project’s five-song debut, Life of Glass (out July 7 on Forged Artifacts), wouldn’t sound out of place on the Drive soundtrack. The EP revels in moments of climactic melodrama, with Bleau’s wispy vocals mixed low beneath arpeggiated synths indebted to the ’80s and drum programming punctuated by the occasional handclap.
The Iowa-raised musician says he’s made a conscious effort to polish up his act, building traditionally structured songs around electronic production techniques that subvert standard pop tropes. “I wanted to make music that had a little more staying power,” he says. “I wanted to do justice to this other part of me, this other part of my tastes and inclinations.”
“It’s interesting, when you watched a Frankie show they were obviously so high-energy. He had a Frankie character going on, where he was more abrasive and in your face performance-wise,” says Matt Linden, the founder of Forged Artifacts. “Now in Cheap Fantasy he draws inspiration from [avant garde electronic artist] John Maus, who can go up there with a microphone, his laptop, and just rip an amazing set, and have it be more of a theater experience. He’s really energetic onstage, but in person he’s a really chill guy. He’s way more laid back in person than he is as a stage performer, and I think that’s intentional.”
With Cheap Fantasy, Bleau has ditched the irony that defined Frankie Teardrop’s music, hoping to create a different kind of emotional connection with the listener. “With that band, it was very intentional to have a character with a voice and a certain attitude,” Bleau says. “I didn’t want to trap myself this time into having to do that forever. That was one of the things that led to the end of that band. I felt like I had to write the songs a certain way, or be a certain a way.”
Naming his band (and his onstage persona) after the title character from one of the grim, spare punk band Suicide’s grimmest, sparest songs gave Bleau a lot to live up to. “I didn’t feel super honest playing those songs anymore,” he says. “I think everybody was feeling a little burnt out. It felt like a natural conclusion to it. We worked really hard on that last album, it took a long time, and we weren’t feeling it anymore.”
The pop settings on Life of Glass allow Bleau to explore weighty topics like loneliness and depression with a refreshing directness. “Is there anything in these nights alone?” he sings on the title track, as Rose von Muchow harmonizes alongside him. “Is there anything inside of this feeling anymore?”
“The songs he showed me were so catchy and thoughtfully written, and Jordan has this incredible drive and aesthetic sensibility,” says von Muchow, who also plays with Bleau in the band Wetter. “I thought I would be just lending my voice to the project but I ended up writing a fair amount of the harmonies and helping figure out the structure of some of the songs, and it’s really been nothing but loads of fun.”
Bleau says he’s been working on the songs from Life of Glass since September 2016, some for as long as two months at a time, focusing on one idea before proceeding to the next and “learning how to make music like this while making it,” as he puts it. The songs appear on the EP in the order they were recorded, and you can hear Bleau’s electronic craft develop along the way, culminating with “Out of Phase”—at six minutes, an epic by pop standards, but with a drop that makes it worth hanging in there even for a listener with the shortest attention span.
“For me, sad songs are really honest,” Bleau says. “Those are the songs that have helped me the most throughout my life, and if I could provide that for someone, that’s a super cool thing. There’s a cathartic element to it.”
Still, the creation of Life of Glass wasn’t a somber affair. “We would just sit in his studio, which doubles as his bedroom, until really late at night, laying down tracks and generally goofing off,” von Muchow says. “Jordan is just about the silliest person I know and I’m super proud to put out music with him.”
And listeners have been hearing some of those qualities in Cheap Fantasy’s music. “It’s like anytime I play this stuff for anybody, they’re like, ‘Oh yeah, windows down, summertime,’” says Bleau. “If you want it to be that it can be that too. It can be whatever you want.”
With: Finesse, Devata Daun, Free Music, Iceblink
Where: Eagles #34
When: 9 p.m. Sat. July 8
Tickets: $5; more info here