20 November 2009

Album Review: Jupiter One - Sunshower

Indie rock is a curious thing when so many of its perpetrators practice a genre that doesn't sound like actual rock--a movement that all too often thinks that awesome, horns-throwing music should be restrained, perhaps made more subtle, because to do otherwise would destroy any image of being cool, which might as well be all that matters to the band. Let's be frank, we've seen a scores of "serious" indie rockers ever since the recording studio was democratized: young musicians in skinny jeans trying to look nonchalant while pretending to go wild. That kind of half-hearted disinterest only succeeds when the music itself is credible.

Jupiter One is not ready to (or simply not good at) pulling off this delicate balancing act with Sunshower, released in the third quarter of 2009. The band's photo in the liner notes gives off that "Oh yeah, we're all just chilling with our instruments; you wanna take a photo? Nah, we don't mind..." vibe, as does, unfortunately, their music. The record starts out well enough, striking up cosmic riffs and revving up the intro with the falsetto "ahhhs" that made the Flaming Lips famous. Turning down the spacey knob a notch, the band does its best VHS Or Beta impression for the verse before switching into the symphony-sprinkled chorus lite, full-flavored without overexerting itself. The average listener would expect roughly the same kind of rock for the other 10 songs. Oh, how you are led to believe this notion! After this flashy starter, the band throws you into "Lights Go Out," a credible body mover that dances through its rhythms, alternating between post-punk's fastest riffs and the most bombastic chords Interpol could think of. K Ishibashi meanwhile croons like he's auditioning for a spot in Bloc Party, and all feels right. So, hey, that style is nailed down. Why not switch up things next song?

And so, "Flaming Arrow" presents an almost whimsical folk rock ballad about arson, and this is where the album missteps for the first time. Everything from this point loses the luster exerted so amiably . "Made in a Day" is "Lights Go Out" lite, adding organ hums and violin whines to what should be indie rock with dance pop sensibilities; instead, we get something cutesy and not so much sung as pled. Deciding to confuse us, next we get "Anna," which jumps in with power pop chords that Boston once rejected. As the first verse bridges into the chorus, the band brings in an industrial-sized vat of kitsch and slathers on the early 80s glam rock, complete with organ swirl and Beach Boys-style cries backing up the punchy rhythm.

And then the band just gives up. We're treated to dance duds nothing like the first half, like "Simple Stones," which is too laid back to sound interested and sounds like elevator muzak for 20-something kids from New York. "High Plains Drifter Finds the Oracle at Delphi" plods along at a maddening pace but tries to make up for it by just slathering on cheese on the melody, alternately tickling the listener with sitar, strings, glockenspiel, woodwinds, and a smooth pop, licked by some strange abomination that sounds like Barry White without soul. The rest of the album wouldn't be worth mentioning if not for "Come On," which carries a faux new wave sound in the name of The Killers without giving up its soft harmonic riffs and roaring chorus blasts, supplemented with "you can't be seriously that dramatic" strings.

The resulting collection of songs sounds about as fractured as a cyclist trying to pedal frantically at 50 miles an hour through a sea of bricks. Sure, you get some solid indie rock that takes cues from respectable new wave and nearly-dance pop; at the same time you get some schmaltzy power pop that Julian Casablancas thankfully chose not to throw into his classic rock-tinged solo album released not too long ago--and I haven't yet mentioned the bizarre folk rock ditties. Why are they there? Why? Why?

There's no good answer. It all sounds like a bad impression of an indie rock band too much in love with itself and whatever it can do. Yes, Jupiter One apparently feels justified in joining together whatever music it comes up with, even if the song choices match up like they were all thrown together at random. The band's got some knack for pop--the first few songs bear that out--but when not in top shape the music is lazy. Seriously, the last half of the record sounds like breakfast for hipsters--its too full of itself to care about the music.

Why? It's just that good.

No. It isn't.

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