Monday, August 25, 2008

Jaguar Love - Take Me To The Sea

Jaguar Love
Take Me To The Sea (Matador, 2008)
Grade: C+

Download: Jaguar Love - "Highways Of Gold"

While it may be utterly superfluous to grade Jaguar Love's Take Me to the Sea, I'm required to, since distilling a complex opinion down to a single letter or number - and for all the good its done our public schools - is all the rage. So let's get it out of the way. I'm giving the album a C+ on the infectious nature of opening track "Highways of Gold" and the fact that the album is a respectable experiment, even if nigh-unlistenable. It's a polarizing album, as seen by reactions in the comments on other blogs. People either love it (A) or they hate it (F). I'm straddling the middle ground based mostly on artistic interest.

If you don't know, Jaguar love is put together of former Pretty Girls Make Graves and Blood Brothers members. Other members of the Blood Brothers went on to form the vastly-superior Past Lives, who, in what I think we can assume is a fit of passive-aggression, dropped an E.P. two weeks before the release of Take Me to the Sea.

Jaguar Love is comparable to the Hold Steady. Not at all in quality or how much I like them, but in audience response. Reading comments on blogs in response to posted tracks, their seems to be a mix of interest and absolute and total horror at Johnny Whitney's singing. Much like Craig Finn's voice, it's something you either can deal with or you can't. At first, I thought his wails – which have not to be helium induced, right? – almost pierced my ear drums. Halfway through the album, I'd either lost the ability to hear ultra-high frequency sounds or I'd gotten used to it.

In contrast, I think the instrumental parts of the band work really well. On "Humans Evolve Into Skyscrapers," crunchy, drawling guitar drives the song, matching the aggressively whiney prose of the lyrics, eventually giving way into a rhythmic breakdown. It's not really my thing, but I have to give props to Jaguar Love for really nailing the atmosphere of the lyrics.

Other parts of the album mix up moderate rock with elements more pop rock than badass. Opening track "Highways of Gold" pairs snarling guitar with pogoing synth and a deceptively pleasant keyboard break. It all comes off a bit cartoonish, which I think is fine, considering as Whitney sounds like Minnie Mouse. On "Georgia," the band goes straight-up melodic, with some Hold Steady-inspired organ-over-piano action going on. In sharp contrast, Whitney sings sweetly, then busts out in parrotish sqwaks. It's a little weird and disorienting, but I think the sincerity of the track makes it flow.

Overall, I think Jaguar Love is a really interesting experiment. I'm genuinely surprised by how well the band is able to blend with Johnny Whitney's voice to make it not sound like 40 minutes of fingernails on a chalkboard. There's some really interesting instrumental work on the album. But like I said towards the beginning, it's either something you're going to really dig or you won't. Attached up top are "Highways of Gold" and "Georgia." The two songs capture a lot of the polarity of the album. If you're into them, you'll probably like the whole album. If you spend the whole time contemplating long-term helium exposure on the human body, you might not.

Jaguar Love MySpace Page

(April Wright)

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