Ah, the sophomore slump. That treacherous valley of expectation meeting fear is one that sinks the stomachs of many musicians and fans alike. It’s so often a lose-lose situation. If a band changes their sound, fans are disappointed, but there’s also disappointment if a band’s sound hasn’t matured or diversified since their debut album.
Jaguar Love likely suffered their share of heartburn over this. How could they remain themselves without repeating their debut album? Fortunately, it seems like the band members were keen enough to keep what people love about them: the sheer energy the music puts forth and the exuberant elastics of Johnny Whitney’s vocals. This time, the band added a dash of retro synths that, ironically, help the music sound more fresh.
There are changes on Hologram Jams, but none of them mess with the heart and soul of the band or the album. A lot of guitar-work and punk influence has been replaced by drum machines and synthesizers. At first, fans of Take Me to the Sea may be disappointed by this seeming loss of organic sound. However, Jaguar Love provides enough of a wall-of-sound experience that switching out the instrumentation is much less noticeable than if the band were a more minimalist affair.
Whatever the changes, the energy of Jaguar Love is alive and well. The album bursts out of the gate with one of the highlights, “I Started a Fire.” This song begins with brief Vocoder vocals, then quickly snaps into a glam-rock keyboard riff before Whitney begins screaming, “I started a fire”, in his high-pitched metal voice that rivals Axl Rose. “Cherry Soda” also uses retro synth sounds and soundboard shenanigans to quickly dissolve into cacophony, backed by grungy beats and synthesizers mimicking ferocious guitar solos.
Not all the songs are as opaque as “Cherry Soda”. “Up All Night” would make a perfect floor-filler during the set of any clever DJ. “I stayed up all night / and saw the sun come up,” Whitney croons. Hardly inspired lyrics, but they’re delivered with all the punchiness that accompanies a blissfully sleepless night. “Evaline” is another standout dance track. Whitney tones down his vocals enough to let the music speak a bit more loudly. It’s a good track for the Jaguar-Love-faint-of-heart. Similarly, “Everything Is Awesome” begins with music reminiscent of New Order. If it weren’t for Whitney’s screeches and bellows, this could almost be a lost New Order instrumental.
Hologram Jams brings good news and bad news, but in a certain light, even the bad news is good. This band is committed to evolving while preserving the key elements of their music that hooked so many fans in the first place.
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// Notes from the Road
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