Destroying the promise of 2008’s Take Me to the Sea, Jaguar Love’s new album abandons rock conventions altogether and invests in a synthesized mèlange of stilted party jams, stream-of-conscious rants, and the occasional mid-tempo attempt at pathos. The resulting cacophony may just represent one of the most flagrant wrong turns in recent music history.
After the demise of The Blood Brothers, Johnny Whitney took his high-pitched scream and formed Jaguar Love with Pretty Girls Make Graves alumni Cody Votolato and Jay Clark. Initially the new band focused on mixing the precision rock of Queens of the Stone Age with the expansive jazz chops of Mars Volta, an uncanny combination, but definitely more organic than their latest effort, Hologram Jams. In February of last year, when drummer Clark left the band, Whitney and Votolato turned to their laptops in an effort to replace their missing rhythm section. Absent Clark’s exact playing, the duo’s sound tilts toward a ham-fisted brand of electronica that misappropriates Dan Deacon’s hyper beats and fuses them with the absurdist tendencies of Mr. Bungle.
Opening track “I Started a Fire” provides a good example of where this new incarnation could have landed. It’s an immediately catchy song, light-hearted and buoyant, an excellent model for what the two most likely hoped to achieve on this album. A few bars in, Whitney squeals some of his more interesting lyrics, combining easy nostalgia with the just plain bizarre: “I built a campfire in an abandoned swimming pool in Beverly Hills/ I knew something was wrong when my drum machine flew away.” It’s a cogent picture of West Coast life in the 21st century, rendered by one of its disoriented troubadours. The following tracks don’t build on this initial momentum, however. In fact, they seem to wander increasingly further from the pattern.
With song titles ranging from the mundane (“Cherry Soda”) to the self-parodying (“Jaguar Warriors”) to the simply trite (“Everything is Awesome”), much of the remainder of the album proves an obstacle to be negotiated rather than a source of pleasure. Still, there are gems among the stones. “Sad Parade” is a beautifully crafted, mature ballad written with the delicate attention to nuance that only an accomplished songwriter could offer. In it, Whitney pines, “Hey girl, fly away/ I see your spirit drift like balloons/ Hey girl, don’t you cry/ You died on the day you were born/ Hey boy, don’t you fret/ You been walking all day in bleeding shoes/ Hey boy, listen close/ The willows gonna whisper to you.”
Unfortunately, two good songs do little to temper the overall disappointment with this new direction, and having thoroughly enjoyed Take Me to the Sea, it really pains me to denigrate its successor. In retrospect, Whitney and Votolato might have found it more prudent to ax about half of the other songs and offer this as an exploratory EP. That would have bought them some time to find a new drummer and let the proper follow-up gestate a bit more.