Every time the rock `n’ roll scene in America hits a bump in the road, a band from across the ocean in the United Kingdom comes to build it all back up again. In the early 1960s, when so many American rock stars were out of commission (Elvis, Little Richard, Buddy Holly), the U.K. sent over the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Who. In the late ’70s, when America was beset by the likes of Styx, the Clash and Sex Pistols came over to shake things up. Now, with bubblegum and alterna-garbage having a stranglehold on listeners, come two bands from Britain, the Doves and JJ72, which bring good music back to these shores
The Doves’ debut Lost Souls (Astralwerks) is already a critical success back in Great Britain, where it was nominated for this year’s Mercury Prize, the highest honor for an album there. Listening to the album, it’s not hard to figure out why. Some albums have a particular mood associated with them – some should be blasted out of car windows in the summertime, others are perfect for a late-night sobfest. Lost Souls is a perfect morning-after album. It strikes a balance between a warm tone and a melancholic one, and brings out the best in both.
The Doves’ new album makes it hard to tell the band rose out of the ashes of a dance band. No fancy electronics or synthesizers here. Instead, the Doves creates washes of psychedelia reminiscent of the shoegazing scene in the U.K. in the early ’90s and early songs from Oasis and the Verve. Songs like Firesuite have a floating, washed-out sound that creates a hypnotic trance-like effect. It is the audio equivalent of drifting or floating in a pool. This mood continues in Here It Comes and Break Me Gently, in which the vocals even have a watery, processed sound that blends deep into the mix of the song.
Even with their floaty feel, the tracks have bite to them. There are no immediate hooks to the songs; instead they slowly seep into your mind. Here It Comes still has a hypnotic effect thanks to the retro sound from an organ, but mixes in jagged guitar riffs and vocals that sneer with all the arrogance of a Liam Gallegher (like Oasis and a host of other great British bands, the Doves are from Manchester.) Break Me Gently has an epic, string-drenched sound. Catch The Sun could also be a Foo Fighter song with it’s perfect grasp on pop, but trades in the dopiness of that band for a more mature sound.
While the Doves may have a more flowing, hypnotic sound, Irish rockers JJ72 blast out visceral and anthemic songs on their self-titled debut (Lakota) that are some of the most exciting in the last few years.
The closest comparison can be made to the last big band out of Ireland: U2. Listening to JJ72, it’s impossible to tell that this is trio of three teenagers. Any fear that they are another Hanson can be quickly squashed. Instead, JJ7 takes the over-the-top power sound of U2, mixes in the soft-loud-soft style Nirvana perfected and crosses it all with the romanticism and the falsetto vocals offered by Radiohead. But JJ72 shows that the sum is definitely more than the parts.
The album starts out with the gorgeous October Swimmer. It starts out softly with a lilting Irish voice over an acoustic guitar before blasting into big guitars and crashing drums at the choruses. The lyrics may be cheesy in their romanticism, but you forgive them because you get swept up in the rush of the music. The ballad Oxygen ups the cheese factor even higher by throwing in waves upon waves of strings, but these kids do better than rockers twice their age by making the music sound like something that matters. There’s a real passion in these songs that force you to buy into the music rather than laugh it off.
It is a shame that the best song on the album, Long Way South, is buried halfway into the album, because this is a gem that definitely should shine. The song features an electronic drumbeat straight out of the Joy Division classic She’s Lost Control. The guitars chug on and then smash into riffs at the chorus, when a shaking tenor sings out. It’s a song about escape, a classic theme in rock not seen since Springsteen’s epic Born To Run. The other standout track is the epic Snow. The song starts out softly before exploding into the choruses with all the force and power of a bomb. While it may fit the soft-loud-soft formula so many bands have used, JJ72 wins the listener over with its sheer exuberance and idealism. Maybe it is a good thing these kids started out so young before getting the chance to grow cynical.
The only drawback to JJ72 is the same one that U2 suffers. After a while, the songs start to blend into each other – it seems like JJ72 only has two songs, Fast Song and Slow Song. Still, JJ72 plays those two songs better than almost all other bands around.
For any fan of rock `n’ roll, these two albums are near indispensable. Lost Souls and JJ72 both bring back emotion, melody and passion into rock – all things that have been sorely lacking lately.