When two good, separate things crash and shatter and then through the rising smoke come together to form something new, the outcome is not always beautiful. Such is the tale with Jaguar Love. The band is comprised of former members from The Blood Brothers (Johnny Whitney and Cody Votolato) and Pretty Girls Make Graves (Jay Clark).
The Portland based group came together after the demise of their respective acts to form Jaguar Love with Whitney on vocals and piano, Votolato on guitar and bass and Clark on drums and keyboard.
On their debut album, Take Me To The Sea, the band struggles to meld the indie sensibilities of the music with the shrieking yelps of Whitney’s jarring vocals. It elicits sounds of throwing screws into a blender that’s making chocolate milkshakes. Whitney’s high-pitched squeal worked well with and fit the faster, post-hardcore aesthetic of The Blood Brothers, but is lost in the more straightforward, slightly calmer pop sound of Jaguar Love’s music.
The saving grace of the album, and what a grace it is, is the instrumentals and the melodies of the songs. The key sound that bleeds with power from the music is Votolato’s handling of his six string; dispersing chords and notes that are vicious and menacing. On “The Man With The Plastic Suns,” the distorted guitar licks drive the song, pushing forward an ominous atmosphere that ties in well with the lyrics that tell a dark story of a dangerous, gambling man on a downward spiral. The piano notes bounce well, adding a nice touch to the dramatic tone.
One of the finer tracks on the record is “Bats Over The Pacific Ocean:” a great title I’m picturing as a Dali painting. The song is fun, and though it deals with a serious matter, being evicted from one’s home, it does so in a humorous way. “I got evicted from my house / All my shits on the lawn / Everything I’ve owned since I was a baby / Turning grey in the sun.” It’s a catchy tune with upbeat acoustic guitar strums, tambourines and a driving drum beat.
The standout track is “My Organ Sounds Like…” where Whitney sings as if he’s inhaled a helium balloon before bellowing out his words. The sound is very much a pop, glam rock ballad that shimmers and shines and closes the album in an anthem like manner.
But as with most of the songs on the album, the music is lost to Whitney’s frantic screeches, and the lyrics for the larger part are indecipherable. One feels as if his voice is attempting to shriek back into the past to grab hold of his former Blood Brothers heyday, but it doesn’t deliver over a sea of softer sounds. If his vocals could be molded into something deeper and robust, the album would flow better.
One thing I do truly love about the record, however, is the song titles. They are certainly creative, evoking images of a post apocalyptic, Mad Max-esque future with names such as “The Man With The Plastic Suns”, “Bats Over The Pacific Ocean”, “Antoine and Birdskull” and “Jaguar Pirates”. I enjoy the lyrics of the songs and the interesting imagery they create, while simultaneously telling a story, “So I flew to Australia on a flamingo’s back / The Pacific Ocean was dreaming of angels with the wings of a bat.” You can’t deduct points from Jaguar Love for good word play.
Overall, Take Me To The Sea isn’t a sensational debut, but after a few listens, and if you can surmount the initial discomfort of Whitney’s wail, the album grows on you. I can foresee Jaguar Love as having a strong following from post-hardcore and punk fans looking for some angst-ridden howls to get down to on the dance floor.
Take Me To The Sea will be released by Matador Records on August 19, 2008.
01. Highways Of Gold
02. Bats Over The Pacific Ocean
03. Jaguar Pirates
05. Vagabond Ballroom
06. Humans Evolve Into Skyscrapers
07. Antoine and Birdskull
08. Bonetrees and a Broken Heart
09. The Man With The Plastic Suns
10. My Organ Sounds Like…
Aug 15 – Carrboro, NC – Cats Cradle*
Aug 16 – Washington, DC – 9:30 Club*
Aug 17 – Philadelphia, PA – Trocadero*
Aug 19 – Brooklyn, NY – Southpaw #
Aug 20 – Worcester, MA – The Palladium “Upstairs”*
Aug 21 – Toronto, ON – The Opera House*
Aug 22 – Chicago, IL – Vic Theatre*
Aug 23 – Omaha, NE – Sokol Auditorium*
*w/ The Faint
Written by: Ali Hussain