Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Patrick Stolley
Joel P. West has the kind of name of someone who should have a well-placed esquire following it. It's a mixture between Alfred E. Neuman and a naval officer of high esteem or a title given to some fat cat attorney - only in theory. The real Joel P. West is a high school art teacher in a public school in San Diego that's not really close to being the best one out there, from all reports. There are attention spans to deal with, truancy, lackluster effort in all classrooms - the very dilemmas that have gone ahead and riddled all aspects of young American culture. You just can't find someone between the ages of 10 and 18 who's not less interested in more things than he or she is interested in. We could just put a gentleman's bet on it if that's what it would take to prove it in your eyes. Either way it is, West is surrounded (in song) by a tired, black sea and in real life he just shares a border with a tired blue sea that fosters unreachable dreams and more than a healthy amount of absent gazing.
He's a guy who has taken his art to places that it never knew it could belong to, ripping it out of its element and forcing it to be cool with adverse situations and surroundings. He's been to Iceland to meditate and be alone with his art, where it was forced to decide what its new definition was going to be. He's let his art reflect the kinds of self-conscious inhibitions that a person often gets faced with while living in a country far away from home and choosing to experience life in a completely different manner than the one that is usually most prevailing. The words that West uses to express a sort of unconnected and yet fully absorbed life are the kinds of road warrioring words that we're most used to hearing in Bob Segar and John Mellencamp songs - where people are as strong as they can be and where there's tough, grit to be chewed on and appreciated. There's a lot of trying to figure out how it all works and how all of these various lives and roads all fit together for the person contemplating them.
West chisels out a picture that makes a lovely plea for friendship and for communal humanity in the face of exasperating odds and oddities. He seems willing to welcome all of the cooks into the kitchen because it certainly could lead to better meals and it most definitely would lead to bigger, more interesting meals. The topics of conversation would stretch as endlessly as the eyes can carry and they'd be flying haphazardly all over the map. It would be something to drink to, to toast to and rejoice in. He's assembled uncertainties - of friends (he calls them allies) and enemies (he doesn't have a word for them) - into little pieces of collage clippings that are then put together in a glued up, snapshot way. It carries a flowing narrative of the mind jumping and clearing small buildings below or just buzzing by scenery, motioning out to all that's going on out there. It's more of a feeling out a hot air balloon though, where there's enough time to zero in on all of the minor details of things below, where you can follow a progression, some steps walking, some people changing others or changing themselves.
West has a lazy and colorful voice that gives off a golden glow and an intellect that seizes you and wraps you up in the dramatic escapes and cliffhangers. It's woozy like Jeff Mangum in places and it takes on magical sorts of climates when he sings about a hummingbird hiding in an orange tree - a descriptive particle of lyric that allows for extraordinary daydreaming. West's current record and the project that he's centered it around also allow for interjections and appreciations from anyone who wants in. Dust Jacket has become a web site - or vice versa - and the way to get a copy of it is to visit the site and volunteer any piece of handmade art in exchange. It's West inviting others into his scrapbook and the results already have been profound. It seems to make sense that they would be.