Magical Mystery Man

The elusive Jim Noir shows his face in Seattle.

Jim Noir says he didn’t set out to cultivate the air of mystery that surrounds his appealing debut, Tower of Love, which appeared in the States this summer like a fully formed acid flashback to the swirling, swinging ’60s. Yet the bowler-hatted Noir (the nom de pop of 24-year-old English home-studio eccentric Alan Roberts) certainly seems mysterious. Though its winsome melodies and eerie arrangements leave no doubt that its maker is as big a fan of the Beatles and the Zombies as you’ll find, Tower doesn’t really offer the kind of personal revelation we’ve come to expect in our Tabloid Age. The music sounds as though it just sort of fell out of the sky one day, an impression Noir’s helped along by declining to jump wholeheartedly onto the indie-rock touring circuit. Following an unlikely appearance at the Austin record-biz conference SXSW earlier this year, he was scheduled to tour North America but canceled at the last minute. Barring any eleventh-hour change of plans, he’ll make his Seattle debut this week.

While he claims having an enigmatic persona was unintentional, Noir is quick to add in an e-mail: “It must have something to do with my night job, where I don a crafty disguise and go out on the town and solve minor traffic crimes. They call me Minor Traffic Crime Solving Man.”

Perhaps that’s it. Still, even if he’s uninterested in providing the kind of diary- entry introspection proffered by many of his indie-pop peers, Noir already has attained a level of success about which there’s very little ambiguity. Local indie label Barsuk gave Tower of Love an American release in August. A staffer received a tip from a friend in the U.K. and convinced label founder Josh Rosenfeld to woo Noir’s management team, which also runs the tiny company that released his CD in England. (“All my dealings with Jim have been semi-shadowy,” Rosenfeld admits, “but he’s definitely a sweetie.”)

Later this month, Noir is set to open a series of dates for Sean Lennon, which is about as close as you can get to a Beatle these days without security clearance. And “Eanie Meany”—a fuzz-poppy Tower track in which Noir warns neighborhood bullies, “If you don’t give my football back, I’m gonna get my dad on you”— was featured in an Adidas spot during this year’s widely viewed World Cup broadcasts. (He’s also got a song on the latest Grey’s Anatomy soundtrack CD and recently covered Cat Stevens’ “Here Comes My Baby” for a Chase commercial.)

Noir is uncharacteristically straightforward regarding his secret for breaking into the ad industry: “I’m cheap.” His recording process, though, is a more tightly guarded technique. “It’s like making a spaceship out of LEGOs,” he explains.

Keep that one under your bowler hat.