‘Machine’&‘Footsteps’- Track Reviews
9.4/10 & 9.4/10
Rag-tag clan of musical curios, create music that has you yearning for the past, and longing for the future.
Availability: ‘Machine’ and ‘Footsteps’ are available at: http://soundcloud.com/search?q%5Bfulltext%5D=the+jar+family
They have been going strong for 3 years now…
and in that time, in their own words, have “amassed such a sizeable collection of songs”. I have been reviewing a lot of Northern bands and acts over the past couple of weeks. From the swing/jazz styling of Little Violet to the blues rock sway of JonnytheFirth; through to Rose and the Howling North’s mixture of Nancy Sinatra-esque soul and modern blues-rock fusings, I have been blown away. A lot of media hoopla is centred on existing artists, and old legends like David Bowie returning to the fold. New bands are featured here and there, but seems to be a diffuse attention-span given to their trajectory and raw and unadulterated desire to be classed amongst the pack. They all deserve to, as well. I have been amazed by the range of sounds and styles that are available; the likes of which would likely never be heard, if it weren’t for being ‘in he right place at the right time’. I have had to dig through coal to find gold, and although ultimately satisfying, it should not be so tough to uncover world-class music in a highly utilised and multi-faceted electronic age.
Rant aside, let me inject an aura of sensibility and biography. The Jar Family have been on, or bubbling under the radar since their formation, back in 2010. I was made aware of their attention via The Guardian, and have been described, rather under-appreciatively, as: “what Pete Doherty might sound like busking”. Whether one finds insult in being compared with a veracious crackhead and tabloid enemy, or complimented at being grouped with one of the 21st century’s most accomplished songwriters, is hard to say. It seems like a moot comparable, as the band share only a modicum of Mr. Doherty’s personal or musical D.N.A, and have a less controvertible image and personality. That said, the group have supported Doherty’s sister band, Babyshambles, as well as providing tantalising warm up vibes for the likes of Alabama 3, The Charlatans, and modern Dylan-in-waiting, Jake Bugg. Quite a heady and diverse mixture of acts, and a pertinent indication of the range and clarity of the troupe’s sound. The Jar Family themselves have had a movie-worthy last few years. Formed out of the frustrations and hardships of economic despondency and unpredictability, they have been wowing their native Hartlepool and the North as well as a wider demographic ever since. in August they release their new single ‘Broken Minded’, a song I am sure I will be reviewing nearer the time. The band have already recorded an army of tracks, and release an album later this year. From a cursory reconnaissance of associated acts, The Jar Family stand out. Their attire and aesthetic is highfalutin and reminiscent of Victorian detective agency. You could imagine Holmes and Watson, pacing the floors of Baker Street, searching for clues to solve a grisly murder. Holmes with pipe in hand; Watson glancing out of a candlelit window, as down below their associates roam the streets of London, in search of justice. A perpendicularity can be drawn between the parable and reality. The eight-piece clan do not have a uniformity in their style like The White Stripes; instead each have a different style and eccentric individuality to their look; kooky, but compelling none-the-less. Their sound, too, has hints of the past; parts Dylan, bits of Blue Oyster Cult, and, curiously, Chas and Dave too. It was with a light and agile witted heart that I inked my pen, and prepared to divulge my impressions and first thoughts open hearing their songs.
First up, is going to be the opening track to their forthcoming album. The Guardian described the track, rather preciously, as “anomalous”; a word that would usually be regarded as complimentary, but given the remainder of their summation of the album’s tracks, feels awash with thinly-veiled disregard and disinterest. Having heard the track for the first time, one thing comes straight to mind: de-wax your ears Paul Lester (The Guardian). The song I hear is much more astute and incomparable. I am reminded of the opening line to Samuel Beckett’s 1953 work, ‘The Unnamable’: “Where now? Who now? When now?”. These are the questions that I’d like to answer, rather than becoming bogged down in trite semantics and under-exaggeration, I’ll drill to the bedrock. Beginning with a clattering of a typewritter’s keys, there is a detectable literacy and scene-setting motif provided within a few seconds. From there, we transition to a scuzzy, put-out-on-a-first date riff; reminiscent of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. A sort of opening Auto-Erotic Suicide She Wrote. The riff is pervasive and evolutionary. It hunts, eats, feeds and grows with a middle finger to Creationists. The byplay between the intergalactic riff and pummeling percussion is oddly insouciant. The resultant sonic cardiac dysrhythmia, is enthralling and dangerous. There are flecks of Jack White and Josh Homme in the fret work, and as the intro chugs along, the machine becomes unslakable. The vocal that enters the stage, has components of Jake Bugg and a young Bob Dylan. It resonates the same way, yet sounds less addled than Dylan, and fresher than Bugg. The hypothetical ‘when now?’ is the ’60s-cum-early 1990s. Although distinctly their own men, The Jar Family have a familiar brace and vibrancy to their attack; sounds of Britpop and The Bluetones, co-mingle with the early punk purveyors. Some of the lyrics can, however, edge towards facetious: “I wanna free you like a heart attack”, is a little detached. There is an urgency and breathlessness to the vocals and when the lines: “Give me a reason/Give me some time” and “Get on the machine”, are delivered, they are done so with dramaturgical conviction, and brings them back on track. The whole aesthetic of the song, and by extension, the band themselves is looseness and playfulness. In the same way that The Beatles did with albums such as Please Please Me, our Victorian urchins have an equal floppy-haired appeal. The chorus is chant-worthy, and the spirit is evocative of a happier, less sybaritic age of music. I guess the ‘who now?’ question has been answered. It is unfair to collate the music of The Jar Family with any other act. They have genetic similarities, but the way they mesh sounds and concecrate joviality together with a hard rock spirit is unlike any band doing the rounds today. Towards the final third, there are meditative guitar lines, and when the line: “I’m not a preacher”, is delivered there is a vague wink of irony. The band are imploring you to ‘get on the machine’ and onto their wave; there is preaching afoot, but it is never ecclesiastical; it is without doctrine or oath. There is merriment, intrigue and, the answer to ‘where now?’, in my opinion, is onwards and upwards. To answer the disingenuous critics and the uninitiated who say that the band are a tributary, rather than sea change, I would say to keep listening to ‘Machine’ as it will lodge in your skull quicker than you realise. If you’re still unsure, I will leave with a quote from Thomas Yorke, circa 2001’s ‘Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box’: “I’m a reasonable man/Get off of my case”. That applies to you Mr. Lester!
Perhaps acting as a panacea, to counteract the metallic taste of Machine, Footsteps begins life as a quiet child. There is a fleck of The Eagles’ ‘Lying Eyes’-meets The Coral circa-‘Magic and Medicine’. The baggy, clicking heels intro will lift you and compel you to listen hard. The vocal is an unexpected treat. When anticipating the ensuing tone from hearing the intro, there are parallels with Schrodinger’s Cat. There is a measure of quantum superstition in your attitude. Until you actually hear what is coming, it is impossible to predict or know for sure. The vocal that ends suspense is calm and sensuous. It is like Pete D. has cleaned up, received singing lessons from Noel Gallagher, and has just had his heart broken. The music has a calm and mellifluous charm. The vocal sounds like it is was born on America’s west coast. There are moods of Californian folk/country, as if sped up a few RPMs. The sentiments expressed have an appropriate cachet to them. There is doubt and relationship tension: “Then you come home/Wonder why…” and longing maturity and self-reflection: “I just wanna settle down”. There are semitones of James Blunt in the tremulous vocal performance, but far, far more credible and lovable. It is a softer, more evocative croon. If you close your eyes and follow the song, vivid and sun-filled images come to mind. It takes you inside of the lyrics and you can picture what our protagonist means; every heartfelt word resonating with clarity. When the harmonica is dusted off, and injects some emotional wind into the emotional meteorology, the Dylan comparisons seem appropriate. Although The Jar Family don’t posses the same epoch-defining lyricism of Dylan, they have a romanticism that Dylan didn’t quite achieve until 1975. There is perhaps not the same reverence as contained within the likes of ‘Tangled Up In Blue’, but at the same time there is less mauvaise foi as well. The chaps are wearing hearts on sleeves, and implore you to listen up good. It is quite a bold about-face of ‘Machine’ but no less impressive. Over the course of 2 tight and impressive tracks the band have accomplished and conquered a wide empire of emotional ground, and planted flags in enemy territory.
If you are hearing about this band for the first time, I would suggest three things. Firstly, have a listen to each of these tracks on their own merit, and judge for yourself which is the stronger or more memorable of the two. Secondly, delve back into their extensive catalogue, and explore the range of styles, sounds and emotions this mighty band of men achieve. Lastly, once this is done, brace yourself for their impending album, as it will be something to treasure. The Jar Family have a unique and beguiling uniformity to their image. They already distinguish themselves from the pack on looks alone. Their lyrics are diverse and striking. Some times they lapse into nihility, but most of the time they are mature and incisive. The band are chameleons in the desert landscape; they blend beautiful whether the sand blows a storm, or the sun burns to the core. The vocals are never third-rate to any of the influences or artists I have picked out in this review. There are smooth, soulful tones; jagged rock edges, and an authenticity to every word spoken.
So the beautiful North are creating quite a stir at the moment. In years gone by, it was the cities of London and Oxford that produced the golden talents (except of course for the rush of Mancunian talent from the ’80s-late ’90s), the geographical shift prove that the rich-poor divide is true financially as well as musically. I’m not sure it diminished wealth and fiduciary headaches promote creativity and a unequivocal drive for success, but there does seem to be a coloration. Perhaps an impending triple-dip recession may not be the worst thing in the world, if it spurned similar bands to rise and intoxicate. It has been a good day of music for me today and The Jar Family are already lodged within my brain and soul. They have elements of Britpop, classic ’60s pop and have a very modern drive and mandate, in spite of the neo-Victorian band boutique. If I were to bookmark the review with some literary lines, the most appropriate would be the final lines of ‘Speak Memory’ by Vladimir Nabokov. But I’ll explain more…
… the next time we meet.