Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Jaguar Love - Take Me To The Sea

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The Blood Brothers, Neon Blonde and now Jaguar Love: fortune doesn't smile on Johnny Whitney and Cody Votolato, it beams. Auteurs of art punk, they have cemented a reputation, both inside and out of their native Portland music scene, for making music which, for lack of a better phrase, simply fucking destroys. Suffice it to say, when they play, people listen.

After the Blood Brothers announced that their hiatus was a permanent one those many months ago, nobody was worried that the post-hardcore poster boys would quit making music - it was more a concern of what kind, and when. This summer's immensely powerful EP answered the question to a certain extent, and Jaguar Love's full-length debut Take Me To The Sea punctuates that response with an emphatic period. To borrow from the terminology of the National Enquirer, it is nothing short of a romp, traipsing across diverse and eclectic stylistic and acoustic locales and leaving no stone unturned. Soul, blues, lounge, punk, and electroclash are all given their fifteen minutes. If Young Machetes was the Pacific Northwest's Black Market Clash, then Take Me To The Sea is its Sandinista! (all that's missing is a faux-gospel Tim Curry cameo).

Anybody who has been keeping tabs on the Blood Brothers since the release of Burn, Piano Island, Burn! will probably find Take Me To The Sea a natural extension of that sound, a sort of Blood Brothers after the Blood Brothers. The lyrical content is still surrealistically macabre, and the chorus of "Bonetrees and a Broken Heart" is a dead ringer for Piano Island closer "The Shame". That being said, you're not going to be confusing this with Crimes anytime soon. For one, Whitney's blood-curdling squeals have lost their vocal counterpoint in the jaded, Strummer-esque snarl of Jordan Blilie. Another change is the lack of sudden, dynamic tempo-shifts as heard on "USA Nails"; generally speaking, Jaguar Love finds a speed and sticks with it. That isn't to say that the songs are monochromatic, not at all. The fast-paced jog on "Highways Of Gold" is juxtaposed by the leisurely saunter of "Georgia" (from whence the album derives its title), and for every "Antoine and Birdskull" sprint, there is a "My Organ Sounds Like..." stroll. Take Me To The Sea is "Peacock Skeleton With Crooked Feathers" on a macrocosmic scale: schizophrenic, energetic, unpredictable.

The only detriment to the album is something which plagued the Blood Brothers as well (at least ever since Johnny Whitney discovered the upper registers of the human vocal range), and that is the fact that his bleating whine can be highly off-putting to many listeners. An avid fan of the falsetto myself, this has never been a problem for me. But without Blilie's low-pitch response, Whitney's call can sometimes grow monotonous. To those weaned on the chaotic interplay of numbers like "Rats and Rats and Rats For Candy", his performance may feel a bit lopsided, and this is something that can only go away with time.

Nevertheless, Jaguar Love have handed in a performance that merits serious consideration. Final answer, Regis, Take Me To The Sea is one of the best albums released in 2008.

Key Tracks:
Bats Over The Pacific Ocean
Highways of Gold
My Organ Sounds Like...

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