Jupe Jupe – Crooked Kisses

On the surface, Jupe Jupe’s Crooked Kisses feels very familiar.  Broken down into its individual elements, songs like “Pieces of You” draws from sounds pioneered, re-hashed, or otherwise reminiscent of Franz Ferdinand, The Cure, and others in that vein.  The vocals, however, don’t sound as though they’re trying to affect Robert Smith, Dave Gahan, or David Bowie – not specifically.  The vocals have their own unique, understated personality.  They breathe out solid spans of simple melody, encouraging the both the frenetic energy of the guitars and drums – and the gradual, looming flow of a synth pad.

“Never Ask Why” begins with a pleasant distorted synth pattern ringing out through a light reverb and to one side of a plucked guitar.  The production has a clean, open feel – every instrument perfectly defined.  The sound is not, however, injected with the meaty, neon massiveness of The Crying Spell.  From an arrangement standpoint, this makes sense.  As the song progresses, you hear a recurring string-machine melody – very retro, indeed – gliding gently over the raucous start-and-stop rhythm of the song.  This record teeters between the soft touch and a hard brilliance from beginning to end.

The third track, “Love to Watch You Fall,” also begins with a minimal synth sequence – foreshadowing a future melody.  However, almost immediately you get a far less stern vibe from this song with its straight-rock beat and sixteenth note synth patterns.  From there it heads into a strange and perhaps tongue-in-cheek pre-chorus sung with monotone aloofness.  The chorus is even more colorful, with a playful, popping synth following the vocal melody.  It wasn’t so catchy on the first listen, but the song ultimately grew on me.  As we progress closer to the end, the addition of a squelchy synth to the left and double-time hi-hats gives the outro the perfect boost.

“Whispers Kill” starts off with what at first seems the perfect lead-in to a hard-hitting electro-dance-rock track… but the song is nothing of the sort.  A panning synth shifts from center to right, delivering an insistent low-note over a ghostly, distant shadow of a synth pad.  The drums cut in along with a low guitar, setting the stage for a “late-50’s-early-60’s-esque” pop aesthetic – replete with (synth) chimes, mellotronish flute and strings, and straight, no-frills guitar playing lock-step to the drums.  They are recreating something of that “American Graffiti” feeling here, by way of David Lynch and a little John Barry.  The tremolo guitar is the perfect addition, cementing a very carefully thought-out mood.  It’s strange and satisfying at the same time, and when the chorus arrives you really get the total vibe of groovy, Soviet-era romanticism; a love song between spies.  It’s playful, imaginative, and impeccably arranged.

By the fifth track, it’s clear that each song is a different entity, and not given over to a single formula or template.  Hit-or-miss, each track has a unique identity that rarely tips its hat towards the others.  “All The Things We Made” is articulate and dynamic, building from low verses to a marching, illuminated chorus.  Here and there I detect what I think is a timpani or large tom, thundering beneath the outro of the song.  It’s a wonderfully effective addition to the sound, giving the song a slightly cinematic feel.  Without getting insanely loud, the band manages to create the sensation of an intense swell before leaving on a warbly, over-driven note.

“Autumn October,” lush and dreamy, feels like a salve after the hidden darkness of the previous track.  This song, as with all of the songs, represents a specific relationship between quiet and loud; they all play with sonic density in a particular way.  As I listen through the album, the mix and mastering impresses me more and more.  I feel like my ears aren’t being inundated with noise in order to get across “toughness” or “intensity.”  All of that work is done in the arrangement.  There’s an aesthetic fidelity to the mix that allows the music to naturally form its own rising and falling action.

Returning to the post-punk dance floor, “Vicariously” is driving, leaning on a strained guitar line that steps down and back up – very minimal, reminding me of the Pixies for some reason.  The chorus is all 80’s synth pop, though, throwing-in claps and massive, synths.  The synth work, overall, is spectacular.  All of the synth parts standout on the record, holding up entire sonic ideas on their own and not merely complimenting the guitars.  This song in particular is one of the most energetic tracks on Crooked Kisses, and it’s placed at the right point on the album just before “Darkness.”

The eighth track divides its time between a David Bowie-type verse and disco-rock chorus that seems to split the difference between The Killers and Franz Ferdinand.  Although not my favorite song, there’s an undeniable, dance-inducing quality to it.  This song grows on me with repeated listens, and it may at some point become my favorite.  For now, though, I feel that this is the first instance where we aren’t exploring anything new on the record.  I have a feeling that when I return to this record in a few months time, I’ll be hearing it in an entirely different way – a testament to Crooked Kisses’ rich sonic fabric.

“Hollow” begins with a toy-like atmosphere – driven by the choice in synth patches and the bouncy drums.  Even so, the song empties out onto a gentle beach, vocals echoing over the horizon.  As though rolling on waves, we rise up into the chorus with its marching insistence.  I don’t know why I get this seafaring imagery from the song, but it does evoke that sensation of cruising over blue water, the sun glinting off waves in the distance.  The song is very catchy, and by the end I was humming along to the melody.  There’s something plain and honest about it, and enjoyable in that way.

The album ends with “New Stars in the Sky,” a song caught between the slow, moody vocals and the insistent sixteenth-note pattern.  There’s a little funk in there, England in the late-70’s.  The song is gloomy and sexy; something James Bond might have on his iPod.  It’s definitely one of my favorites, full of stylized heartbreak and classic cool.  It’s also a great song to end the record with, showing something a little different before departing.  “New Stars in the Sky” made me want to listen to the album over again.

Crooked Kisses is a mostly sleek and colorful record, full of surprises and variation.  I feel as though there are plenty of bands that tread the same territory, but few with the same imagination and personality.  The vocals never go wild with emotion, but they are not robotic and lifeless, either.  As a band, Jupe Jupe have created a lovely, sometimes dark, and open sound that stayed with me and didn’t wear out my ears.  No complaints here.


New Politicians – Drag a City

Not all post-rock is pop, but some of it is.  New Politicians strike a fine balance, injecting their spacious and dynamic environments with tugging bass guitar, insistent drums, and crystal-clear guitars.  Synths float evenly from song to song, filling in the lower-midrange gap in the mix left wide open by the rest of the band.  There are some obvious comparisons to be made which I don’t care to engage in, but comparisons to other bands, like the French band AaRON, which I think are fair and favorable.

New Politicians have a grasp on dynamics in rock music.  What’s important for the listener to hear in the arrangement and mix at any given time?  What sort of spaces should each instrument inhabit?  Where can the synth compliment the song most?  The have a solid answer for everything, and the key is, I think, that the mixing and mastering of the record doesn’t appear to be on the front-lines of the loudness war.

As soon as you play the first track, the volume – and in an essence, the presence – of the music is slightly diminished in comparison to the sounds we’re used to hearing (which often border on the abrasive.)  However, a mix can lose it’s sense of clarity and headroom when pushed to the max.

In order to show the listener the complete power and scope of their songs, New Politicians have provided a mix of their work that allows for a better view of the rising and falling action; the full spectrum of mood and texture is available to the listener, and not just the melodic content that survives over-wrought mastering.

The music itself, elegant and pronounced, is at times nuanced and other times obvious.  The record is just as concerned about the arrangement and performances as it is about creating mood.  There’s a slightly cinematic feel to the record, couched between a nostalgic 80’s feeling and a also a peculiar “newness.”  It’s as though we’ve been led back to a grand old city – one the entire world knows from a bygone golden age.  We’ve seen the pictures and we have practically visited every street in the cinema of our minds.  But New Politicians takes us back to see all of those things we missed.

“The Length of Our Love,” the opening track of four on this criminally short EP, builds (similarly to the other songs) from little to a lot, simple and cleanly guitar guiding towards a swirling vortex of call and response vocals.  The sound of New Politician’s voice isn’t plain but it isn’t exactly unique.  The voice sounds as it ought to: clean, focused, correctly positioned within the mix.  Even if the styling isn’t exactly new, the vocals are capable of great power.

“Sail Away” enters with somber, drowned organ, prompting guitars to coalesce around it.   It’s an oft gloomy record, full of shadow and rain.  Even so, there’s a devotion to clarity present; a desire to open a day and let the light in.  It reminds me of rainy days on the streets of Seattle with the water pouring like rivers from the sky.  The street floods and the sidewalks are glassy smooth with rain and white in reflection of the featureless sky above.  Watching people dance through a window, streetlights and neon blurry ghost-like fixtures overhead.

“Are We the Dining Dead?” picks up the energy, just in time.  It’s probably my favorite song, beginning with a very specific feeling brought to gentle life by synth bells, piano, and a spooky reverb.  They rush in to meet the rest of the band, who are ready to rock (and dance a little.)  It’s about as ferocious as the band gets, but it’s got a palpable, driving energy that not only sets itself apart from the other songs – it compliments the overall arch of the album.  The guitar solo at three minutes-two is spare but exactly right.  It draws a handful of bars of attention to itself and then goes back in the drawer.  Not wild and out-of-control, but incredibly well calculated.

The title track, “Drag a City,” is a harpsichord-laden song that reaches back a bit further than just the 80’s.  The beat and overall mood is drastically different from the previous three songs, but’s it’s coherent and ornate – keeping the sense of space and clarity that is present throughout the EP.  While perhaps not my favorite song, it still certainly brings to mind some lovely imagery with the slight rolling march of the snares, the mournful chord progression, the ebbing flow of strings, and finally the empty, cold drone “Drag a City” empties into…  The end of something spectacular, beautiful, and tragic.

Drag a City is a record of equal amounts throwback and innovation.  It is partially dislodged from the class of bands who appear to be eternally shuttered inside the squalor of music that looks back more than it looks forward.  There are plenty of fresh ideas from one song to the next, and overall you will want to hear it more; you will want the experience to go on and explore more territory.  Alas, four songs will have to do.  But even in the space of those four songs, New Politicians managed to reach me.  If my attitude going in was “here’s a band like all the others,” it certainly wasn’t that by the conclusion of the EP.  I got hooked by  Drag a City, and I wanted to stay there for a while, and be that man on a rainy street once more.