Philadelphia-based multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Justin DiFebbo dives head long into the styles and feel of pop songs from previous eras on the deeply enveloping Turn Out the Light, Turn On the Stereo. Of course, the risk there is great – in some cases, these styles have been left behind because they were so perfectly executed; in others, because they feel shrink-wrapped in another era – but DiFebbo sidesteps those pitfalls by continually incorporating his own unique post-modern quirkiness.
“Coffee,” for instance, sets a late-night mood, establishing a 1970s-ish country-rock gait filled with folksy introspection. But the lyric, and his quietly confidential approach, are a country mile away from any steel-toe booted saloon – not to mention the sense of darkness that initially surrounded this song. Instead, DiFebbo composes with a writerly attention to detail, festooning the track with a series of unforgettable, sunrise-kissed moments. “Coffee” just keeps getting warmer, more close in, more comfortable in its own lovestruck vulnerability.
The layered “Play It Slow” then rambles out with an off-kilter initial groove, powered along by a sequence of nervous asides from bassist Michael DiFebbo Jr. The verses, in fact, sound something like the Talking Heads – jittery and bursting with ideas, language, observations, turns of phrase. The chorus, however, is something else entirely: a rocket ride into the heart of optimism that follows with this track’s Beach Boys-inflected coda.
DiFebbo, who’s also joined on Turn Out the Light, Turn On the Stereo by guitarist Avery Coffee, drummer Zil and vocalists Brian Cullen and Todd Oakes, then tries for a kind of Beatley suburban ennui for “She Refused.” It’s as sugared and sad as Paul McCartney’s “She’s Leaving Home,” but without the snarky call-and-response from John Lennon – at least within the narrative. There’s a similar push and pull between the guitar and electric piano solo here, something that adds needed heft to a song that reaches for something that’s perhaps just beyond its grasp.
DiFebbo then shows off his uncanny facility across a broad musical spectrum with “Stained Glass Window,” which opens with a melancholy turn on the flute and then shifts into the kind of angelic reminiscence that Simon and Garfunkel patented more than two generations back. When he returns to the flute, DiFebbo counters his own sweetly conveyed asides with a series of baroque exclamations on the keyboard – an exciting moment that again keeps this tune from becoming rote.
“Storm” updates its shag-carpeted singer-songwriter vibe with an atmospheric dissonance that sits well back, until the track finally settles into a comfortable little cadence. Flourishes of organ add the by now almost-expected moment of off-kilter creativity, even as DiFebbo pushes his vocal into brand new areas of vulnerability. “Certain Company,” which gives this set its title, continues along this line, delving deeper still into this kind of throwback reverie – utterly removed from the angular, largely electronic moments of determined revelry that dominate so much of popular music today.
In that way, this seven-song journey accomplishes something bigger than paying tribute to these largely discarded song styles. It makes their absence from the current musicscape feel like a minor tragedy.
DiFebbo then closes out this one-man show – he wrote all of the songs, and produced Turn Out the Light, Turn On the Stereo, as well – with a uke-driven farewell called “Float Down River,” a perfectly executed, perfectly situated, perfectly nostalgic yarn that seems to perfectly sum things up on this old school and yet rarely dated offering.
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