[17 May 2011]
Given David “Moose” Adamson’s lyrical preoccupation with morbid and deathly subjects, in a way it seems grimly appropriate for his musical project to die in childbirth. The Eyes of the Fly is the fourth and now final album by the genre-bending Indianapolis outfit—which has recently “thrown in the towel”—and is as freakishly beautiful as their previous offspring. Indeed, it’s tempting to see this record as a kind of delayed sibling to 2009′s entrancing Dead Zone Boys, as scarcely a single track from either album would seem out of place on the other. More of the same is more than welcome, however. While it is as dark and weird as ever, the alternate Indianapolis dreamworld Jookabox’s music depicts is a place well worth returning to one last time.
That music’s enduring, oddball draw is contributed to greatly by the fact that this is a sound that remains uncommonly surprising and inventive. Like its predecessor, The Eyes of the Fly squirms and slips away from each attempt at categorisation. Adamson’s long-held affection for hip-hop is evident, but only in a form warped and bent almost out of recognition, erratically welded to many and varied synths, guitars, and unidentifiable sounds. The core Jookabox arsenal of variously manipulated vocals and terrific drumming keep the whole project anchored; if not to this world, then to the Rust Belt “dead zone” of Adamson’s imagination.
The creepy funk of “Thriller”, by fellow Indiana native Michael Jackson, is only the most obvious and longstanding of Adamson’s myriad inspirations. There is rock here; flashes of soul and electro, too. However, our guide to the underworld has more sense and ambition than to ape a different style on each tune. The distinctiveness and thrill of Jookabox in general and of The Eyes of the Fly in particular is a product of Adamson’s ability to hybridise styles on so fundamental a level that they form new ones entirely.
The result is a sound which is absolutely Jookabox’s own, and one which performs the striking feat of being both aggressively weird and eminently listenable at the same time. “Webbin’” is a real highlight in this respect; launching out of the blocks with a flurry of hollering treated vocals and echoing drums, it seemingly ducks into a tunnel for a subdued midsection before its chanted group mantra returns for the finale. Later, “Worms” appropriates the dying rasps of a disk drive for its synth-driven hymn to those creatures “writhing underground”. Exciting oddness lies in ambush in almost every bar of every song; even as it is always expected, it is always surprising.
Lyrically speaking, while the talk of flies, worms, and death reflects Adamson’s grim interests, this record nevertheless has a lighter touch than its predecessor. In an era when so much pop music expresses positivity only as well-meaning but hollow admonitions about materialism or self-centredness, Jookabox’s giddy and carefree surrealism is refreshing. Indeed the wordless but usually happy-sounding jeers, hollers, looped cries and screams are arguably the bigger part of the album’s vocal personality; the actual words can sometimes seem more intended as a reminder that we haven’t altogether crossed over into Adamson’s trippy and benevolently haunted world.
The Eyes of the Fly is perhaps best thought of as a slightly more concise companion disc to Dead Zone Boys; more consistent but less frequently spectacular. While the new material lacks the slightly leaden songs which caused Dead Zone Boys to drag, it also lacks a tune as impressive as that album’s incredible “Light”. Those already fallen to Jookabox’s bewitching spell will find it difficult to pick a favourite from the two recent albums; new listeners will find either one a perfect introduction to the other. In sum, The Eyes of the Fly is a thrilling and fitting epitaph for a project of enviable innovation and verve—“Moose” Adamson’s next moves should be followed with all the eyes you have spare.