The Joggers are smarter than most bands. Having spent their time paying attention to details in their music that lesser bands overlook, they’ve turned songwriting that would otherwise mostly just be serviceable into sharp, danceable pop. It fits right in on Star Time International, the New York label gaining a quick reputation for quality with solid releases from Brendan Benson, the Natural History, the Walkmen, and the French Kicks. All four Joggers sing, and while their individual voices aren’t necessarily all that great in a traditional sense, they make it work without over-reaching their limits. They also focus on making sure that their songs can swim with as little adornment as possible; each element seems capable of supporting the singing on its own, and this frees the band up to play fast and loose with their arrangements. It works, sometimes, and hints at still better things to come. If nothing else, they could teach a lesson to a lot of other bands content to settle for less.
When I saw them live, the mix was so murky that you couldn’t really get a feeling for what the guitars were up to. The band was understandably a little underwhelming as a result, though not uninteresting. On record, the guitars come off as appropriately dicey, stabbing out lines that are free to be as sparse as they wanna be thanks to drummer Jake Morris and bassist Darrell Bourque. My friend described Morris’s playing as lead drumming, referencing a critique of Keith Moon’s playing on “I Can’t Explain”. On “Oriental Alarms”, Morris breaks out a funky white boy’s best approximation of a Dennis Chambers groove and gets points for not falling over his cowbell and onto his face. The playing gets a bit excessive at points, but Morris mostly keeps things interesting throughout.
There’s an over-abundance of vocal harmonies, with all four members singing, and it works; the album is almost full to a fault. Lead singer Ben Whitesides’s vocal affectations can be loopy (“Back to the Future”) or Malkmus-lite (“Neon Undercarriage”), with easy echoes of Britt Daniel thrown in. It’s the call-and-response chorus of “Hot Autism” (good song, bad title) that’s the piece that makes the song work; ditto the back-ups on “Back to the Future”, though I could probably do without the a cappella sections. It overstates their case a little too readily. “Every Other Word” is as straight-ahead as this album gets, with a pair of background vocals getting together for “Oooh Wahh, Oooh Wahhh"s, and a fourth coming in and out to punctuate the leads. Its disco hi-hats don’t feel like an in-joke and it’s everything that’s good about Solid Guild laid out in a hair shy of three minutes.
It’s tough not to throw out a comparison to the Strokes at least once, and that’s not meant as a slight to either band. The similarities are mostly in the overall sound of the disc; it’s a tough point to put your finger on, especially considering that the approaches the two bands employ are so disparate. Vocally, Whitesides’s mostly harmless charm works to the Joggers’ advantage as much as Julian Casablancas’s more casual toughness works to the benefit of his group. The comparisons between the two bands don’t run very deep, though, and the Joggers sound intent on striking out their own ground. It’s exciting to think about what they might accomplish when they get a more consistent grasp on their overactive arrangements. Their sound can be erratic when they lose the reins but they can’t be faulted for their enthusiasm. It’s what picks them up off of the heap of sameness.