reviewed in issue #176, 2/8/99
The lines between the rap music of the late 80s and today's electronic movement have always been blurred. The former has influenced the latter in innumerable ways. Of late, I've been hearing more and more projects which celebrate this link. J goes more the way of Operation Beatbox, taking pieces of recent and more "classic" hip-hop and fusing them into electronic presentations.
And he's not above digging into the disco and techno camps, when he feels like it. So what he ends up with is a music form which makes most people uncomfortable. In these days of musical divide, j insists on playing the polymath. Hey, I can dig.
And in fact, I've never heard anyone able to so smoothly slip from one sound to another while retaining a personal touch. Getting into the second half of the disc (instrumentals), the common bonds are easier to hear, even if the music is more complex.
I'm simply knocked out. J has vision, and he executes impeccably. This is one of those discs I can't put away. A feast for the music gourmet.
reviewed in issue #203, 8/7/00
More of that Honest Don's power punk pop. J Church is a bit more into the power than the pop at times, but that doesn't remove any of the charm.
In fact, some of the meanderings really help to set the band apart. J Church isn't afraid to change up tempos or tackle seemingly obscure subjects. And with 26 songs, well, more than a few lesser-known topics get hit.
The sonic sheen is pocked with dirty lesions, which works out well for these generally tight songs. There's no need to produce this in a bulletproof fashion. Merely powerful will do.
One of them sit in the car and crank it up albums. The great choruses just keep on coming, and there's enough variety here that I didn't get bored. There's a veritable mine of fine material on this disc.
Driving the World
reviewed in issue #135, 5/26/97
J.U.R.S. is Jacek Usnarski, a guy living in southern California. He puts together sonic collages that fall somewhere in the realm of electronica. This does have the sterile feel of a one-man operation, but Usnarski manages to get enough organic samples into to the mix to keep things on a somewhat rational basis.
And he likes the funk. Not the bombastic funk of ages, but just that little happy funk feel, enough of the Sly to get you going. And once he gets going, he simply keeps a good thing moving along.
All good traits. Usnarski is also smart enough to vary his beats and sounds, bouncing about to keep things interesting. In diversity comes strength, and J.U.R.S. sounds good no matter what the bass is doing.
An impressive home project. This is quality all the way.
reviewed in #164, 8/3/98
The second homebrew release from Jacek Usnarski. He traffics heavily in the electronic, putting something of a contemporary spin on the sterile techno musings of Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream (acknowledged influences)
He does so by splicing soaring keyboard lines (not washes, but single note leads) with ambient trance and techno grooves. By wandering through a wide variety of melodic and rhythmic ideas, Usnarski packs more than a mouthful into each song.
But never to overload status. His sparse, sterile sound helps to keep from overwhelming the listener. In your face and pretty as a rose, his songs continue morphing until the final blast.
I was damned impressed by his first disc, and this set of songs is stronger still. The complexity within these pieces is astonishing. There's so much here to hear.
Jack the Radio
Jack the Radio hails from Raleigh, but it comes from the 70s. The boys affect a western style and the occasional cowboy sound, but this is 70s concept rock at its finest.
The conceit behind this album is to create something of a spaghetti western rock opera, and damned if works far better than it sounds. I'm not sure I would have bought into an acid-rock version of the Eagles as played by Marc Bolan. . .well, no, that sounds pretty interesting to me.
The band stays in character throughout, and while the story falls a bit on the basic side, the inventiveness of the music is a constant. The reverbed lead guitar and echoed organ do lend that certain time and place to the sound, but they also drive these songs to my happy place.
Don't worry about the back story; this is solid rock and roll. Timeless stuff that ought to keep blazing away for a long time. Maybe it's not cool to crank up the guitars these days. Or maybe bands like Jack the Radio will usher in a new era of honest-to-god rock.
Either way, this album provides plenty of thrills. Each song turns over another rock, exposing wonders underneath. Quite the sunset drive.
reviewed in issue #223, 10/15/01
Dragging some groove into smooth country rock, Jackalope Junction tries to have the best of a few worlds. Sometimes it even pulls off the trick quite nicely.
After all, both laid-back country and groove rock are but different steps away from the blues 'n' boogie, and as long as any merger attempt incorporates that middleman, well, it's bound to work.
And when the band focuses more on harmony-laden alt. country, well, that works alright as well. Sometimes I think the production punches up the sound a bit too much (these songs aren't quite as grand as the sound might make you think), but that's not a fatal flaw. Might even attract more major-label attention that way.
And that's where I think these folks are aiming. They might make it. Jackalope Junction has a command of a number of different styles, blending them quite well. I don't think the songwriters are going to run out of good ideas any time soon. Always a good sign.
Boy, did I keep going back and forth on this one. The Jackals expertly recreate the rambling psychedelic americana of late-era Byrds--minus Roger McGuinn's iconic vocals, of course. I kept waiting to hear something that elevated this above the tribute level. And then I stopped waiting.
There's no cribbing here despite the fact that the Jackals do what countless other bands have done. They dig deep into influences and recreate a sound without a supporting scene. And why not? The late 60s and early 70s gave us some of the greatest music of all time. Yes, Rolling Stone overstates this with every "Best Albums Ever" issue, but boomer nostalgia isn't the reason for this acclaim.
Let's take a very quick look at 1968. The Byrds released two albums (The Notorious Byrd Brothers and Sweetheart of the Rodeo), Johnny Cash threw out Live at Folsom Prison, Creedence released its first album and then there are the albums you know by heart: White Light/White Heat, Music from Big Pink and Astral Weeks. Oh, and the Mothers of Invention released We're Only In It for the Money and Cruising with Rueben and the Jets. Not to mention minor events like the White Album and Beggars Banquet. Do you seriously think any year since 1973 measures up? No, and it's not close. Even 1991 (the year of Nevermind, Still Feel Gone and so much more) doesn't come close in terms of depth.
So I'm re-evaluating the way I look at stuff like this. The Jackals aren't reverent in their sound. They do a fine psychedelia, and they write solid songs. If you're in the mood, this album will satisfy a craving. Is it the second coming of anything? No. But it sure does set a nice plate for the frontal lobes.
The Jackals do throw some modern ideas into the hopper, but that's mostly in terms of arrangements and superior production values. These songs bound about most pleasantly, and there's very little drop-off as the album rolls on. If this isn't your sound, then so be it. There's no great musical revolution going on here--just good music. And in the final analysis, I'll take that every time.
When You Dream
reviewed in issue #317, May 2010
The orchestral pop sound has become more and more of a favorite for young female singer-songwriters of late. Honestly, I like this stuff a lot more than "chick-and-a-guitar" sound any day. This more-crafted stuff is more difficult to create and it puts a lot more emphasis on solid songwriting. All told, Sara Jackson-Holman shows an exceptional amount of range and talent on her first album.
And she's got the perfect high-alto voice for this sort of piano-based music. Holman-Jackson prefers simple arrangements (her usual instrumentation is piano, keys, bass, drums and maybe some guitar), and this means her songs had better stand up strong.
They do. There are a few vocal affectations and a bit of studio trickery (filters, echoes and such), but by and large this album is all about her songs and her voice. Both are more than up to the task.
A blissful experience. These songs are well-built and exceptionally arranged. Holman-Jackson's voice is impeccable. Class all the way.
Jaco's Invention EP
reviewed in issue #196, 3/6/00
The invention of two Jacos, Michele and Danny. The music is commercial-style folk/groove rock, with some nice flourishes.
Danny does most of the playing (another person helps out occasionally with percussion) and Michele takes care of the singing duties. The vocals are solid, well-suited to the style. I wish Michele had a bit more resonance to her voice (I think it needs to have a bit more depth), but that's probably more a question of recording than singing.
The music is impeccably played, and when it doesn't hide behind the vocals, it stands out well on its own. Unfortunately, the music undergoes something of a dulling effect. Doesn't have the same snap.
Good. Competent. Above average at times. But Jaco's Invention just doesn't have that spark I like to hear. Could be the performance, could be the writing, could be the recording or any of the above. I'm not entirely sure. This just didn't make my heart skip a beat. That's all.
No Fish Shop Parking
reviewed in issue #24, 11/15/92
Take your average pop band. Got it? Crank the volume on the music and vocals and you have Jacob's Mouse. The tunes are so friendly, but the lyrics and presentation tend to shatter eardrums of the stereotypical Posies fan. Damn, kids, this is rock 'n' roll!
Instantly infectious, further listening will only serve to strengthen your addiction. You say you can't play this on your metal show? Grab this, Overwhelming Colorfast and make for the disc machine in your studio. Diversity rules, or something like that. Jacob's Mouse certainly does.
reviewed in issue #41, 10/15/93
Frontier worked their last album to a few stations at a time it seemed, and everyone I know who heard it responded with a hearty "holy shit!".
The only complaint I had was a fairly muddy production, but that is corrected here. The songs are more coherent, but just as amazingly crunchy as No Fish Shop Parking. You'll be amazed at the sparseness found in the center of such a sonic maelstrom. That sounds awful pretentious, I know, but it's true. This is a really heavy album without overly thick guitar or bass. You hear everything move about and it still amazes.
No excuse to miss them this time around. Jacob's Mouse is one band to absolutely pick up on.
Stuck on the Way Back
reviewed in issue #231, July 2002
This disc was produced by Kenny Passarelli, whose work with Otis Taylor and others has been so impressive. And like Taylor, David Jacobs-Strain mixes emotive vocals with intricate guitar strumming and picking to create a somewhat otherworldly version of the blues.
And whether he's doing classics, his own material or arranging traditional songs long past copyright, Jacobs-Strain firmly stamps down his own imprint. There's no mistaking his handiwork.
There's also the astonishing sound achieved by producer Passarelli. As I noted, this album bears a passing resemblance to Otis Taylor's fine works, but Jacobs-Strain focuses a little more on his guitar work (which is often achingly beautiful) than on the imagery of his lyrics. There's more of an old-fashioned picking sound here, and it sounds great.
The power of this album is unmistakable. From the first notes, it is apparent that this disc is not to be missed. The guitar work alone is enough to recommend this set, but Jacobs-Strain has one of those old man voices (particularly surprising for such a young guy) that resonates with the moan of his picking. One of the finds of the year, certainly.
reviewed in issue #232, August 2002
Robert Jacobson plays guitar. Jazz guitar, that is, but not in any specified way. His playing shifts through almost as many styles as his writing does. For example, the first track ("Grounded") works its way through Dixieland, some Coltrane-style post-bop (I'm not particularly adept with jazz labels, I'm afraid) and a couple other styles as well.
That's just for starters. Jacobson wails, and he plays it cool. His basic quartet isn't unlike many rock bands (guitar, drums, organ, double bass), except that the bass here isn't electrified. And he's not afraid to wax rock now and again. On "The Airshow," he adopts a laid back roots-prog sound that would make the Dregs proud.
The production style is fairly flat--that is one area where Jacobson adheres to tradition. His guitar tone also is often almost expressionless in and of itself, allowing Jacobson to show off his skills, rather than those of one effect or another. And while the songs are certainly written with an ear for guitar, the sides here get in plenty of time as well.
Instrumental guitar albums, be they rock, jazz or classical, are often dull. This is because the player in question only knows one way to play. Jacobson can play anything he wants, and he wants to play everything. This album is a fine showcase, and even better, well worth hearing again and again.
Leading the Horse
reviewed in issue #306, April 2009
Straightforward rootsy stuff with a bit more punch than yer average americana. Jessica Draper and Deborah DeLoach have solid voices than never get brassy. I think that last bit is why I liked this so much.
In a strange way, it's like listening to the Indigo Girls play hard-rockin' country. Which, of course, is about where Amy and Emily have ended up. These gals don't do it better, but they have written some good songs and sure know how to sing them.
An exceedingly conventional album, but one that is put together quite well. Slide guitar goes in here, organ here, etc. Predicting the sequencing is a snap. There are no surprises, and I'm okay with that. I'm more interested in hearing what comes next.
Jaden South has put together a good effort here. I think there's plenty of room for growth, and I'm curious what direction that will take. I'll be listening.
reviewed in issue #294, March 2008
There's sparse, and then there's minimalist--and then there's Nick Jaina. He writes songs of exquisite grace and then seemingly forgets to adorn them. The song is all that exists. It's a little disquieting.
Except, of course, it's very quiet. While these pieces would qualify as introspective and wrenching even without the settings, the bare bones arrangements really set the mood.
Kinda like some of Tom Waits's more recent albums, though pretty much just Jaina and a piano. Oh, he does pick up something else now and again, but mostly this is piano or keyboards. With something or other that sounds like creaks and whistling wind (guitar pickup distortion? maybe). That last bit is so subtle you might think that's it's simply the wind outside your window.
Which is probably the point. Jaina has put together a masterful album. The songs are remarkable, and the sound of the recording is almost heart-stopping. Makes even the short hairs stand on end.
Hollywood Blood Capsules
reviewed in issue #71, 2/28/95
How might you play pop music and still adhere to the Chicago sound? Well, Jaks didn't quite make it. But the ensuing mess is a fun one to wallow in.
Pounding bass, wailing guitar and distorted vocals (sure, it sounds a little familiar) are Jaks' hallmarks, but the things I like are the occasional attempts to make this well-defined sound conform to a pop song format. I can almost make out verses and choruses. At times, I said.
The sparse production is a relief. The instrumentation and vocals are all distinct and clear, and this compliments the fine playing.
Jaks is going somewhere. I'm not sure where, but I'll stick around for the ride.
reviewed in issue #60, 8/15/94
Technically as advanced as any industrial/dance/pop outfit I've heard. Of course, Rob Jackson's voice doesn't really fit in the heavier songs. Imagine Geddy Lee singing for Chemlab. And the songs, as pretty as they are, just don't have coherent construction, much the same problem as UDS.
Not bad, just not terribly good.
Jeffrey James & the Haul
Ride the Wind Carnival EP
reviewed in issue #308, June 2009
Six songs that roll through rock and roots and the whole shooting match. On the whole, like Dodd Ferrelle (reviewed above), Jeffrey James stays within the pop universe. Even if there's a bit of a southern breeze blowing through.
Pleasingly dark at times and generally complex, these songs wend their way through a world that is colored in shades of gray. The sun does shine, but not all the time, even if James's voice is always a ringing joy.
This sounds a lot to me like an indie rock version of the southern AOR that was modestly popular in the 80s--think bands as disparate as .38 Special and the Georgia Satellites. James and the Haul take anthemic riffs and turn them inside out in a most appealing way. This is really quite cool.
Heard the Voice
Andrew Jamieson is the Minister of Music at Bethel Community Presbyterian Church in San Leandro, Calif. He's a pianist by trade, and he loves spirituals. All very nice.
What he really is, however, is an artist. These visions of spirituals are probably not what most listeners might have in mind. Jamieson's technique is Monk times ten, with all sorts of movement and rhythm built around the melodies of the songs themselves. It's possible to pick out the original lines, but that would be like wandering through the forest looking for just one tree.
While cacophony abounds, this is not a deconstructionist take. Rather, Jamieson exalts the core of each spiritual with a rush of chords and stabs. He's not worried about the occasional blue note; he's going total picture here.
And by incorporating speed, fury and the occasional disregard for melody, Jamieson is getting at the heart of the creation of these songs. Spirituals were not the songs of happy slaves working in the fields. They were songs sung in defiance of oppression. Sung simply, they have a rare beauty and grace. But Jamieson's treatment restores them to their original power.
That power is something that we still need to reconcile today. These renditions are stirring in their own right, but they also stir up thoughts of anger and rage over the repression that still exists. We need more inspiration to instigate change. This album is a great way to start.
Relax Your Penis
reviewed in issue #105, 4/8/96
Three guys from Boston who are obvious fans of NoMeansNo and the Didjits. Wild and wacky punk music, with lots of stuff in the background. Sometimes this works, like on "New Zip Code", which has great riffage and is pretty entertaining to boot.
But more of it is just kinda messy. That's not terrible, and I applaud the guys for trying. Maybe someday they will have the talent to pull off this stunt consistently. Not yet.
I'd be very interested to hear what Jane Noel comes up with next. If the members keep plugging away and crafting their idea further, well, the future is limitless. The creative juices are obviously flowing. The talent needs to catch up.
reviewed in issue #210, 1/8/01
Flitting about the lightweight-yet-sophisticated pop universe, the Januaries weave delicate songs, served up by a coquettish sex bomb. Which is, I guess, the only way to do it.
It's almost like this is a joke, the pieces are so transparent. Not that they're unattractive or anything; the melodies are pretty and the arrangements are spot on. But it's just that. There's too much of a by-the-numbers thing going on.
The banal lyrics don't help. But even those would be effective (and maybe even appropriate) if the music had a bit more creativity to it. It's fine. Don't get me wrong. But there's nothing new here, no new ideas to explore.
So in the end you've got a retro band playing stuff we've all heard before. No matter how well it's played (and the Januaries do it well, believe me), this is still traveling in stagnant waters.
Japonize Elephants from Zorlock, Land of the Lost
reviewed in issue #139, 7/21/97
Among the descriptions in the liners is "Far Eastern Swing". Or, to be a bit more succinct, perhaps an Indian (like the sub-continent) hoedown. The instruments are mostly traditional American (guitar, banjo, flute, violin, etc.), but the sound is anything but.
I'm pretty sure these folks are making no pretense toward creating "authentic" music of any kind, but the carefree abandon with which this stuff is played is utterly refreshing. Loony, yeah, but not a parody by any means. Merely an astonishing merging of styles which is bound to offend and delight just about anyone.
Sometimes the songs get a little too cluttered. It's pretty apparent that this was recorded without any overdubs, as it is possible to even detect which singer stood where in relation to the nearest microphone. Lo-tech, providing a most satisfying result.
Utterly unclassifiable, which is to the good. The live show must be better, and this disc is awfully good. A big wad of fun.
Le Fete de Cloune-Pirate
reviewed in issue #152, 2/9/98
What more is there to say about a band which can whip from a hoedown to the Hora faster than you can say "Holy seltzer, Batman!" And it's not like the Elephants limit themselves to the canon of the redneck Jew. That's just an example.
The main point is really wacky songs, accompanied by truly masterful music that hits on Eastern, Middle-Eastern and trailer park influences. Yeah, the lyrics are goofy, but these folks can really wail. And instead of merely refining some sort of musical chaos, the Elephants create their own musical reality. While in our dimension these sounds may sound rather incongruous, in this Bizarro world the Elephants are the epitome of great music.
Of course, I live in that world all the time, so I'm happy to proclaim the greatness of this band. Way too much fun for such fine music to be lurking about as well. That's really the most impressive part. These songs are meticulously written and arranged, and while it sounds like a manic whirlwind of sound, the underlying structure is completely sound.
Another extraordinary opus. Probably not for the masses, but definitely for anyone who searches for truly fine music.
40 Years of Our Family
reviewed in issue #232, August 2002
A couple sentences can't begin to describe the madness here. Think orchestral roots music as interpreted by Kurt Weill. And then it gets weird. Lucky for me, weird is where I generally like to be.
reviewed in issue #344, 1/21/13
A traveling carnival of impressive proportions, I've been getting occasional dispatches from the Elephants for years now. The sound has coalesced from a jumbled mishmash into a compellingly-coherent rendition of folk music from all over the world. From bluegrass to gypsy to well beyond, the pieces are eternally engaging. A lot of artists try to blend a thousand and one ideas into their songs. The Elephants succeed gloriously. Bravo!
(Young God-Alternative Tentacles)
reviewed in issue #78, 6/15/95
Listed as a "Swans related project", along with M. Gira's disc this album trumpets the arrival of Swans on AT.
One of the most attractive parts of Swans is Jarboe's ethereal-yet-powerful voice. In general, this album is more introspective and less harsh than Swans, but none of the edge is lost. Jarboe has merely tightened the grips on the subconscious.
Yes, the hallmarks of solo works are in evidence: some self-indulgent moments, a lack of coherence and a more intimate feel. But the first two are regular Swans characteristics, and the third is a plus.
More experimental than recent Swans works (along with reworked versions of songs from the last Swans album), this album (along with M. Gira's) brings real hope of a Swans resurgence on Alternative Tentacles.
See also M. Gira and Swans.
Our culture celebrates the young and talented. They are fresh, beautiful and impulsive--everything us old folks aren't.
This is fine for pop stars and artists who like to make things crash, be they writers, musicians, painters or whatever. Young folks like to challenge the old order and create something new. A very few succeed, and our culture is all the better for that.
But after the crashing generally comes the burning. Folks who appeared transcendental at age 25--quick, name the author of Girl, Interrupted--are unable to translate their gifts into something more stable. P.J. O'Rourke wasn't entirely joking when he titled one of his later collections Age and Guile Beat Youth, Innocence and a Bad Haircut.
Suzanne Jarvie has just released her first album. She's a child of the 60s who nursed a musical interest through four kids and a legal career. When two of her children suffered serious illnesses and injuries, she resurrected her interest in music as a coping mechanism.
The songs on this album delve deeply into the fears and desires that all parents face. We imagine the world for our kids, and when they get even a little sick we can be devastated. Spiral Road is, in part, a reference to an accident Jarvie's then-14-year-old son had falling down a spiral staircase. He went into a long coma before slowly recovering.
But rather than simply writing an autobiography, Jarvie takes her journey and turns it into a beautiful, universal work of art. While her voice might have been brighter or slightly more supple 20 years ago, there's no way a younger Jarvie could have approached the brilliance of this album.
Her voice is reminiscent of Emmylou Harris, though her Canadian accent bleeds through in a most endearing manner. Hugh Christopher Brown produced, and he created a sprawling roots orchestra sound to support Jarvie's voice.
All of the pieces fall together wonderfully. From a strictly musical standpoint, this is one of the loveliest albums I've heard in quite a while. Add in Jarvie's obvious talent with lyrics, and the effect is multiplied. Any success is more than richly deserved.
(Wall of Sound)
reviewed in issue #312, November 2009
Cosmo Jarvis is British. So is his record label. And, yeah, this is pretty much throw-shit-on-the-wall Britpop. The influences rush by faster than prostate cancer survivors at a Sarah Palin rally, but unlike most politicians, Jarvis knows how to pull everything together into a coherent package.
I suppose keyboards are at the center of the songs, but that's a guess. There's a busking ballad and a brain-throttling hooky monster. And a lot of stuff from all sides of the pop universe, all wrapped up in stellar harmonies. I guess Brits have a shorter attention span than Yanks.
The sound is shiny, though there are some moments of startling intimacy. Imagine the Streets as a pop singer/songwriter. Oh, and perhaps slightly less jaded.
A wild ride, one that I'm loathe to get off. I don't have any idea how the masses will react, but I'm sold.
Polished Noise EP
reviewed in issue #199, 5/8/00
Thick and punchy power pop, complete with throaty vocals and nice, fuzzy riffage. Brings to mind the more refined side of the Minneapolis sound, with some additions that might be called modernizing.
A real attractive sound, though perhaps somewhat faceless. Jasmine's Bleach has some really nice songs here, but they don't leap out off the disc. It's nice pop, and unfortunately there's an awful lot of that going around these days.
If the guys can find a more unique take on the sound, well, then I'd be real impressed. As it is, this is just another nice pop set. Not a bad thing at all, but nothing special.
In a Cool Monsoon
(Pumpkin Seeds in the Sand)
reviewed in issue #299, August 2008
While this occasionally sounds like a mildly-restrained bit of improvisational chaos, Jasper TX is actually one Dag Rosenqvist. And Dag's one dude I do not want to meet in any alley, dark or not.
The ideas that wander through these pieces are often brilliant. They're also often deconstructed to the edge of existence. Whether by skewing tempo, slaughtering melody with distortion, swimming toward the ambient or simply moving pieces around, Rosenqvist refuses to play the game in a simple way.
Thank goodness. I love music that warps and bends in on itself. Easy tunes are nice, but every once in a while it's good to have a substantial meal. And this disc is full of five-course wonders.
Yes, yes, it's not everyone's cup of tea (or even saucer of hemlock). That's okay. I'll dive right in again and again.
reviewed in issue #125, 12/23/96
Simple, roots-tinged alterna-pop, just like you might expect from an Austin band. And as the Texas Instruments and Javelin Boot are perhaps the epitome of this sound, no one should be surprised.
Now, comparisons to folk like the Connells are obvious, too, and I'm sure the Javelin Boot guys wouldn't be insulted. Sweet choruses with just enough harmony action, the sort of thing that makes spring afternoons so perfect.
The title of the album is a perfect description of its contents. This is precisely what I expected, no better and no worse. Javelin Boot won't change the world with its music, but perhaps a few people will smile just a little longer for having heard it.
There are worse fates.
reviewed in Money Whore issue #9, 10/21/96
Jawbox faced a tall order with this album: either make a very commercial album, lose its old fans while pleasing the major label hacks or crank out another idiosyncratic post-punk pop masterpiece, make the kids happy and get dropped.
Maybe that's why this album has been in the works so damned long. Just speculation on my part.
The results are something of a compromise, and I'm not sure who's going to be happy about it. The tunes are much more straightforward, but you still recognize the sound as Jawbox. An anthemic, moody rocker like the made-for-MTV "Iodine" is followed by a more representative anarchic blister like "His Only Trade". I prefer the latter, even while the suburban punksters are rallying around the former.
I don't know how much of the whole "You've gotta sell a shitload with this album" mentality leaked through, but I can hear the evidence. Not a bad effort; indeed, if Jawbox could have reversed the timing of its albums for the Atlantic family, it might be on top of the world right now.
Eclectic and occasionally brilliant. Jawbox could no more put out a shitty record than decide not to tour for three years. I don't think this puppy will sell enough, but I'll take it anyway.
(Dischord/Touch and Go)
reviewed in issue #28, 2/14/93
Each band does the other's song called "Static." A really brilliant marketing idea. Imagine if this caught on. Laura Branigan doing the Shadows of Night tune "Gloria" (and vice versa, if any of those folks could be rounded up). Or if Helen Reddy and Samantha Sang traded places on the "Emotion" tunes they released close to each other. Or if you could hoist Tennessee Ernie Ford from the grave to record Genesis' "That's All" (and back again). I think I'll stop while I'm ahead.
The Jawbox song is much better, by my reckoning, or perhaps I should say the Tar performance is better. Whichever. Who ever thought this up is a fucking genius.
Now if only My Dying Bride were to write a song called "Tragedy", and Barry and boys decided to give it a whirl...
The future is boundless for this stuff. Amazing.
reviewed in issue #210, 1/8/01
Right on the edge between extreme hardcore and metal. The dull edge on the guitar sound keeps this marginally on the hardcore side, I guess, though in reality it just doesn't make much difference.
No, what matters is how well it works. Jaww keeps swinging, no matter if it makes contact with its target or not. Most of the time, the boys score a direct hit. But even when they don't, by keeping the sound active they just move on to the next, more satisfying blast.
Not a bad theory, really, to just keep blasting. Jaww does that well. Better than most. These guys have the attitude and skills to really tear things up. This disc smokes.
Tommy Jay's Tall Tales of Trauma
reviewed in issue #222, 9/24/01
This would be Tommy Jay and a whole host of friends. Generally minimalist rock, often just a guitar and voice. And even when a semblance of a band backs him up, the sound is very thin.
Reminds me of a more coherent and much less mystical Roky Erickson. Everything is much more conventional. Somewhere along those 70s byways between BOC and America (I'm not joking about that, either).
But even so, I think the Erickson reference fits best. The songs all follow a similar style, though with the revolving cast of mates the sound changes almost constantly.
And that works just fine, as Jay's consistent songwriting (even though he teams up with many of his musical collaborators) keeps him on familiar ground. The big trick is to try new things without falling off the face of the earth. Jay accomplishes this tough task with seeming ease.
Sound of Lies
reviewed in issue #133, 4/28/97
Marc Olson has left the building, and so guitarist Gary Louris takes over the singing duties for the Jayhawks. Where Olson seemed somewhat slavishly devoted to sounding like Gram Parsons (which isn't necessarily a bad thing), Louris sounds a bit like a raspy Glen Frey. A little more anonymous sounding, but still respectable.
And the whole album is that way. Certainly, this is the most raucous and noisy Jayhawks album, but it's also the band's best since Blue Earth. While the American albums have featured such timeless songs as "Blue", a lot of the stuff in between could be generously described as filler. I've been quite hacked at the wild inconsistency in songwriting.
There's a greater emphasis on pop music (getting awful close to the Beatles at times, "Trouble" being the best example there), but the country rock feel is still in full force. While there really isn't a breakout great song on this album, almost every one is damned good. Yeah, the sound isn't quite as distinctive as it used to be, but if this is a starting point for the remaining members, it does well.
I was more than skeptical. Quite honestly, Sound of Lies knocks me out. Better than I had hoped for in my wildest dreams. Indeed, I'll be playing this one for a long time.
The Jazz Butcher Conspiracy
Glorious & Idiotic
reviewed in issue #196, 3/6/00
"Cult" doesn't even begin to describe the appeal of Pat Fish and the various friends who have wandered through the Jazz Butcher machine. If you don't know, you can have anything on the menu, as long as it's irony.
This is recorded live, and there are plenty of fan favorites and a few new songs as well. The live atmosphere shows off the skills of Fish and friends, and it lends a wonderful intimate feel to the songs. The Jazz Butcher was never much for overproduction, but this disc sounds just great.
As for the prospect of future projects, well, this is the first release in five years. There is a U.S. tour planned, so who knows? Maybe another new project might find itself in the works.
Die-hards will rush out for anything, of course, though to be honest, this one is worth the cash. A full set of new songs would really be better, but this half-kettle suffices.
The Jazz Cannon
Daddy Ride 12"
reviewed in issue #170, 10/26/98
The second of the F8 releases. I've gotta say, it's so nice getting a big ol' slab of vinyl. The smell of fres vinyl makes me... Okay, let's talk about the music. Like Gadget, the Jazz Cannon is not in any hurry to get anywhere. There's a style being laid down, and it sits hard on the road.
More of a soulful industrial sound, spoken word delivery and backup singers draped over wah-wah guitar and a seductive beat. Both songs that way, mind you. Maybe more of an old Run-D.M.C. feel. Gettin' on 20 years old, now, with a brand new shine.
The flip is an instrumental, though with the same characteristics. This is just fun music, stuff that makes the day pass faster. Gets me in one of those moods. And I won't argue with that.
reviewed in issue #196, 3/6/00
The big problem I had with acid jazz is that the music tended to lag when the vocals came in. Not so here. Jazzhole mixes hip-hop beats, old school R&B vocal stylings and a number of other sonic references to set its mood.
And the mood is cool, certainly. But unlike the bombastic "soul" music of the last 15 years, this fare allows the instruments and vocals to mingle and forge a stronger emotional impact.
And Jazzhole isn't content to wallow in any single sound for too long. Apart from a general mellow tendency, the guys have a wide-ranging ear, incorporating a large number of sounds without making the songs feel cluttered.
Just well done, basically. This isn't exactly acid jazz, but that's close enough. I haven't heard someone riff through this territory with such confidence and skill in quite some time. Definitely some serious inspiration here.
Circle of the Sun
reviewed in issue #236, December 2002
Those familiar with Jazzhole's trippy, mellow soul will delight in these new songs. Those who haven't caught the train yet would do well to buy a ticket. Few can make a sound this sophisticated sound so simply delicious.
reviewed in issue #276, July 2006
Not unlike Small Brown Handbag reviewed above in this issue, Jazzhole has been doing pretty much the same thing for some time--and doing it well. This latest trip down Smooth and Funky Way goes down just as easy as all the other discs I've heard from these folks. And once again, I can find no reason to complain about that.
Je Suis France
reviewed in issue #284, April 2007
Prog jam rockers who (sometimes barely) refine their excessive tendencies into something resembling songs. I'm not sure I'd want to see a show, as I have very little patience with the whole jam concept (in my twisted world, recorded improvisations are great, but live ones are tedious), but this disc is interesting.
As a case in point, take the second song on the album, "Virtual Heck." It opens with a grandiose Krautrock feel, vamps through some even more pompous riffage and then fistfucks into something that sounds like an early Uncle Tupelo song (the closest song I can put it to is "If That's Alright," though that's by no means a perfect match).
This sort of adventurous songwriting is interesting, though I suppose it ceases to be refreshing when you realize that almost anything might be coming down the pike. What saves these folks is that, by and large, the genre bending and reducto ad absurdum approach to structure serve a greater master. In short, the pieces work.
It helps to have an appreciation for good old fashioned space music, of course, in addition to familiarity with most of the sounds of the last 30 years (or so). Patience is a virtue. And if you let this album do its work, you just might leave smiling.
The Jena Campaign
A Panda for Amanda
reviewed in issue #286, June 2007
Moody pop songs placed in a rootsy setting, with lyrics that pretty much range all over the map of human experience. Not so much mindblowing as free-thinking, these songs do wander though places that most folks generally try to avoid.
I like that. I also like that, when necessary, these folks put away the nice acoustic instruments and make a hell of a lot of noise. That's a good impulse, and it shows that these folks are as inventive with their music as their lyrics.
Probably too serious for most people (I'm a big Eleventh Dream Day fan, too, and I still hear about that from some of my friends), the Jena Campaign has a knack for analysis that is most impressive.
Yes, the songs are logical, but they sound great, too. There's no way to get bored listening to this. Around every corner is a new idea waiting to assault you. That's a very good thing in my book.
reviewed in issue #77, 5/31/95
Three pop tunes in the post-punk tradition. And "Speedracer" is not the cartoon theme song. The song doesn't seem to have much to do with the show at all.
Short, pleasant riff works that make me think of summer somewhere other than Florida (where it has been summer ever since I moved here last fall). Nothing complicated, nothing particularly astonishing. Just nice pop music. And that is a real achievement all by itself.
reviewed in issue #59, 7/31/94
I tossed this on. Soon my stereo was making a noise that sounded vaguely like a car wreck. So I turned it up. Alright!
One caveat to this glorious display of noise: the production really sucks. I can't hear one instrument clearly, though the vocals aren't completely godawful.
In this case, however, terrible knob twisting just might have helped add to the wondrous chaos inside. No one can claim that there is old world craftsmanship going on here, but man, does it rock!
reviewed in issue #132, 4/14/97
An unholy racket if I've ever heard one. Jermflux cranks out a mass of flailing riffs and generally pain-inflicting music that refuses to sit down for slackers.
Perhaps the closest I've heard to one of my favorite bands of a few years back, Agony Column. Jermflux has more of a death metal feel (though I think this is more reflective of the lo-fi production job than any real intent), but the general sonic fury of the bands is similar.
Four tunes, all in somewhat the same vein. A smorgasbord of intensity for all you who haven't bled your eardrums lately.
Skillful it ain't, but Jermflux knows how to disembowel folks with a mad guitar. Yee-haa!
Studio Sessions '97 EP
reviewed in issue #135, 5/26/97
Still a mess, though I think that has more to do with the general lack of post-production work than anything else. Hey, Jermflux can make as wild a noise as anyone.
And that gets proved on every song here. The intro samples are amusing, and they lend a Buzzov*en feel (which I think I mentioned before). See, that's one of them good things.
I have no idea where these sessions are going to end up, but I'm happy to extoll their virtue right now. For pure pain and suffering, go no further. Jermflux has that down cold.
Jesse and Noah
reviewed in issue #344, 1/21/13
Yes, another set of Bellamy Brothers. These boys trend more toward the progressive americana of Los Lobos than traditional country, and there's plenty of rock and soul infused into these backroads rambles. I think Jesse and Noah could work a little harder to break from convention (a couple of these songs get awfully close to filler territory), but when it works (as on the title track) it seems that there's very little these boys can't do.
Jessie and Layla
reviewed in issue #283, March 2007
Jessie and Layla (Collins) sing and play in that offhandedly cool way that Liz Phair used to way back when. There aren't any songs about blow jobs or redistribution of various body parts, but the sound is similar (especially to whitechocolatespaceegg, the Phair-est of them all, IMHO). Specifically, lots and lots of sound and very little in the way of space between the lines.
This sort of heavy-handed production usually makes an album sound dreadfully pretentious, but it works here precisely because the songs are relatively simple and the Collins sisters don't oversell them. The tracks tumble out one after another, kinda like the mint juleps at Churchill Downs on Derby day.
If none of this is making sense, imagine that Wilson Phillips wrote songs with the slightest bit of bite and then let their producer run wild in a lush, psychedelic landscape. Kramer's final mix probably didn't hurt, either.
If you didn't guess, Second Shimmy is something of the reincarnation of Kramer's old Shimmy Disc label. I'm pretty sure someone else owns the old stuff, but when you're releasing stuff like this and Rope, Inc., there's no need to look back in anger. Except, perhaps, at my dingbat literary cliches. Ouch.
Above the Storm
reviewed in issue #92, 11/20/95
Prog-rock from near Grand Rapids (MI). More keyboards and somewhat catchier than latter-day Rush, these boys really crank out the anthems.
The playing is intended to make good music, not ito be flashy, and the band deserves credit for that. The mastering came out a little low, though, leavingthe guitars and vocals sometimes stuck behind the keys.
And the heavy commercial element did grate on me rather heavily. Serious prog-nuts may find the playing and production below the Magna Carta standard. But those who simply like tuneful music that is kinda complicated should groove nicely along.
reviewed in #164, 8/3/98
Quite a step away from the last thing I heard from this band. While there are some prog elements left, Jester's Crown has opted for a more roots-oriented approach. The songs are still heavy-duty anthems, but the guitars are out front.
Oh, yeah, some of the lines are definitely in a prog vein, but the overall sound is much more basic rock and roll. Simply a grand version. And this somewhat looser style really works for these guys.
It's a cool sound, like if Bruce Springsteen listened to a lot of Yes. And now that the keyboards are in the back (where they belong, at least in this band), the rest of the band is able to properly balance things.
I didn't really like the first thing I heard from these guys. But this album really knocks me out. I can hear the result of a lot of hard work and artistic soul searching. Jester's Crown has sweated its way to a better place. I hope the band is properly rewarded.
reviewed in issue #157, 4/20/98
A wide variety of remix styles prevail. Jestofunk (near as I can tell, since I haven't heard the originals) works in a fairly commercial house style, and the remixes are generally quite club accessible.
The MC Turbo sax mix of "I'm Gonna Love You" has a cool sax lick laid over a house groove. The rest of the song is kinda dull, but the sax and the beats work well. This inconsistency within individual remixes is common, and it's troubling.
If a mix isn't utterly ripping something off ("JB 2000" takes a Disposable Heroes beat track and sample pattern without changing a thing), then it's merely adding a few cliches. Hey, if you can use a sample and make it something new, great. When you simply use someone else's work to power your own stuff, that's when I begin to get testy.
And the thing is, the stuff doesn't even work that well. Instead of sticking to a good groove, the mixers more often break the songs up with a variety of threadbare beats and bass lines. Tired is a good word.
Wheelchair Epidemic 7"
(Touch and Go)
reviewed in issue #14, 5/31/92
The best Jesus band in the U.S. (with the possible exception of Liquid Jesus) returns with a taste from their new album. Kicks my ass, I'll tell you right away.
A nice rhythmic grind permeates both sides of this delicious disc. A tastiness beyond belief. If the album can live up to the standard set by this single, it will be a monster.
Um, to say I like this would be like calling George Bush a dick. You know both to be fact.
(Touch & Go)
reviewed in issue #23, 10/31/92
Long-time Chicago crunge gods return, perhaps to hit the big time, as fellow Second City-ites Ministry make a big splash.
Never mind that the Jesus Lizard has consistently put out music that puts Ministry to shame, or that JL just have a lot more product. This album is just plain fucking incredible.
Yes, you can dance to it, but these folks play real instruments and blaze a trail for only the brave to follow. While many a pundit has wondered if "singer" David Yow really deserves that title, I say "You do better!" And this isn't the Green Room at the Ramada, either. This is, strangely enough, rock and roll!
Too loud for alternative, too weird for metal, JL have been shunted to a far corner for way too long. Play these motherfuckers, goddamnit! Like you've heard ten albums all year that are even this good. So there.
Puss/Oh, the Guilt 7" (split 7" with Nirvana)
(Touch and Go)
reviewed in issue #28, 2/14/93
You know the Jesus Lizard tune, as it is straight from their latest album. But the Nirvana thing can only be found here (for now).
Production-wise, it lies somewhere between Bleach and "Sliver". I like it alright, but I must admit I can take only so much self-indulgent noise. And it shares a rhythm with over half of their other tunes, so you'll be sure to recognize it right off.
As for the Jesus Lizard tune, I like it better, but all of you should have been playing it off Liar long ago. I suppose that's all.
(Touch and Go)
reviewed in issue #38, 8/31/93
Two new and four live tracks are what you get. Well, that and the always amazing Jesus Lizard.
Saw a review. The guy said he still doesn't get JL. Yeah, and he probably thinks Soundgarden is a progressive band, too.
There is still no one better at producing killer riffage and stellar (did I really use that word) rhythms. The first new tune sounds like a reworking of the AC/DC style, but totally JL. New track two has a definite DC feel to it.
This is not your everyday Jesus Lizard. But then, there is no such thing. And if you want to know what you (and I, since they came through same day as the Big Star show) missed on their last tour, dig the last four tracks.
A new album would not be too much to ask for, I say.
(Fly) On (the Wall) 7"
(Touch and Go)
reviewed in issue #46, 1/15/94
More new stuff from these folk, who seem intent on flooding the world with their music.
Which would make it a much better place, I think. This continues the familiar strident rhythms and vocal yelps that have characterized this band for (ever).
Good? Yes. Great? Well, just because I say so doesn't mean anything. But I will anyway. The press mentioned more to come. I wait in submission.
(Touch and Go)
reviewed in issue #59, 7/31/94
I guess the way to start is by asking a question. Do you know what the Jesus Lizard is? If not, proceed directly to your station's library and find out. You could just play this disc, but I think you need real seasoning.
Those who answered yes may continue. If you've seen their live show, I should tell you they still haven't managed to translate that experience onto disc. Yet. This is much the same sound as they got on Liar, which is to say clean. Yeah, there's the requisite hollering, but everything is modulated oh-so-nicely.
In other words, it's the new Jesus Lizard. There are some new songs for you to burn into your head (including an interesting deconstruction of "Low Rider"), but no new ground has been broken. Somehow I don't think that will stop me from loving it.
The Jesus Lizard EP
reviewed in issue #151, 1/19/98
Following up on Jetset's success with Firewater, Duane Denison and Jim Kimball got their mates in the Jesus Lizard to pop for a EP released by that label. Whether this is an indication of a new permanent home for the band, or yet another one-off I don't know (I didn't ask, to be honest). But anything new from this band is always worth checking out.
Over the years the band has cleaned up its songwriting and playing. I assume this has something to do with the inevitable increasing professionalism concept, at least applied to the studio. The live shows are as unrestrained and incomprehensible as ever. Good to know that some things never change.
The five tracks on this album were produced by Andy Gill, John Cale and Jim O'Rourke. My copy doesn't say who did what, but it's not impossible to guess. For the most part, the songs on this EP are very precisely played and produced, with some seriously quiet spots. A natural evolution, surely, but the sparse feel is still somewhat surprising.
I would put a big wad of cash on the fact that Jim O'Rourke produced the final track, "Needles for Teeth". There's a lot of lo-fi noodling going on, all brought together by some tight rhythm work. The perfect finale for this set. Who knows where the Jesus Lizard will be tomorrow, but this is a pretty good spot for today.
(Touch and Go)
reviewed in issue #193, 12/20/99
The requisite disc containing b-sides, demos and unreleased tunes from one of the most influential bands of the last 10 years. Do you know how many albums I hear from bands who really, really, want to be the Jesus Lizard? About 50. Every single year in the 1990s. Perhaps that has abated a bit in the last couple of years, but still, this is definitely a sound that has endured.
Do I really need to sell this puppy? It's got a bunch of stuff from one of the great rock and roll bands of the decade. A lot of it you might have if you bothered to buy all the 7"s, but there's ample unreleased material here as well.
Is it worth the cash? Well, if you're a fan of the band it probably is. I mean, it's not like there are many more Jesus Lizard albums to come (I'm sure another live album might be cribbed together, and perhaps some more rarities, though this disc does have 20 tracks--there's no holding back).
If ever a band slouched toward the apocalypse, it was the Jesus Lizard. Now, all that's left is the shouting. And there's a whale load of that.
See also , Firewater, Laughing Hyenas, Mule and Tomahawk.
Jet Black Crayon
Mean Streets 7"
reviewed in issue #238, February 2003
The beats aren't that impressive. There aren't any real hooks to speak of. But Jet Black Crayon has nonetheless crafted a couple of the most impressive electronic hip hop pieces I've heard in quite some time.
The sound is utterly organic. And my guess is that despite all of the sampled street noise on "Mean Streets," there's a band behind most of the music here. Sure sounds like it to me. Maybe it's a lot of nice studio work, but no matter. These two songs are quite cohesive.
The slow burn is a great way to write a song, and both tunes here make excellent use of that style. Jet Black Crayon never quite reaches a climax, but it doesn't have to. The songs are complete just as they are. Completely wonderful, that is.
Jet by Day
split 7" with The Maginot Line
reviewed in issue #247, November 2003
One shot each from these bands, and each makes the most of the grooves. That's what you like to hear.
Jet by Day's "Cheap Shots" is a real chunky rockin' raver that reminds me a lot of Cheap Trick. I'm not sure there's any relation to the song title or if I'm just on a hangover from cruising through the Sex, America, Cheap Trick boxed set last week. Anyway, the song is loud and fun, which works for me.
The Maginot Line's "Theme Song" is a frenetic workout, not unlike what I've heard from the band before. It's got a real nice post-indie rock feel (how's that for mashing yer genres?), and the energy keeps up throughout the whole piece. no flagging whatsoever.
Again, this is what a seven-inch ought to be: a slab of fun. The two bands here match up well, and they make a nice team here.
reviewed in issue #158, 5/4/98
The sort of project I'd like to create someday (like when I buckle down and get a music editing program for my computer). Lots of percussion and rhythmic lines dribbling about, with plenty of sequenced tracks flitting about to fill out the space. Wonderfully complicated and perfectly ordered. And as Jhno is someone's personal music, well, it gives me hope.
Above all the beats (which are intense, but always subdued), a keyboard fleshes out some cool lines as well. Not tracked, but recorded live. Well, as live as you can get. Mellow, but hardly dull.
The key here for me is the intricate rhythm structure. Just a great use of multi-tracked recording, interspersing many different pieces, creating something of a polyrhythmic effect. My mind is aglow.
A great use of one person's imagination. The rich subtext in the music invites me to revisit again and again, always finding something new in the mix. More sounds to get lost amongst.
Got to Be Here
reviewed in issue #203, 8/7/00
So imagine if that acid jazz thing was updated for the new millennium. Instead of jack swing, you'd get a little electronica mixed in with your smooth jams and sampled jazzy riffs. That what Jibe does, and it works.
Now, you've got to like each of these elements. Which isn't too terribly difficult, as the electronic elements here are more Faithless than Chemical Brothers. In other words, the complimentary ideas simply complement each other.
I'm not the world's biggest fan of this kinda thing, but I know good stuff when I hear it. Jibe doesn't traffic in middling material. These songs are first rate, and the production is shiny, but lets the soul shine through. Just like it should.
Quite a set of creative minds and talent. This is a great party album and more. Jibe puts this sound together in a unique and appealing way.
The Jigsaw Seen
reviewed in issue #325, March 2011
More than ten years ago, the Jigsaw Seen released Zenith, which garnered a best-packaging Grammy nomination. Utterly appropriate for a band that plays such crafted (though hardly mannered) pop.
Some bands that traffic in this sort of thing seem to have never gotten over the 60s. I really like some of those bands, but the Jigsaw Seen isn't one of them. Rather, these songs use the layering, horns and strings (or horn and string sounds, at least) of that pop heyday and then create utterly modern songs.
The sound is impressive, largely because it doesn't overshadow the ideas in the music. Really fun stuff, with plenty of asides. You know I'm a sucker for that sort of thing.
A fun album with a big chunk of substance holding up the middle. A fine return to the world for a band that always had more going on than just about anyone else.