[2 October 2011]
The Janks’ Hands of Time has songs that run the gamut from country-inflected rock to prog-inflected pop and hints of folk and even ‘eavy rock. While that gamut remains impressive, those elements never fully coalesce, leaving behind an impressive batch of songs that never quite add up to the walloping artistic statement this California-founded bunch is clearly capable of. That said, the individual tracks more often than not come off as bright, convincing, even worthy of staying in heavy rotation on your personal music-playing device.
The band is at its best when offering acoustic-driven gems that call to mind the chilly cool of ‘70s AM radio. This includes the album-opening title cut, the first of several that will undoubtedly garner the Janks comparisons to Fleet Foxes and Akron/Family. Those comparisons are not wholly without merit—the beautifully realized vocal harmonies, soaring melodies and percussive elements that make you want to run for the forest, find a redwood and beat out a sweet rhythm, to say nothing of unexpected twists of mood, all those parts are there. But it’s also evident that Zack and Dylan Zmed as well as their pal Garth Herberg are not jumping on a bandwagon. It’s clear they’ve carved their own wheels and saddled their own horses, that they have a natural feel for music that itself has a natural feel akin to the work of the almighty Band and that they know their way around a plodding, mellowed-out number as well as their contemporaries.
Witness “Dead Man”, which wouldn’t be out of place on the Band’s 1969 self-titled release (there’s even a little nod to Zimmy Himself in the lyrics) save for the fact that it’s at times a little too self-aware to feel amazingly spontaneous. The two centerpieces of the album—perhaps not coincidentally also the longest tracks—are “Rat Racers”, which has arena-level ambitions with theatre-level subtleties, and “Separation From Your Body”, the kind of thing the Flaming Lips might have dreamed up if they spent a few months in a log cabin and no access to obscure German and Japanese imports. The third best here is the similarly sprawling and dramatic “Drama King’s Ball”, another piece that arrives later in the sequence than one might expect from such a strong composition. It, like the two aforementioned numbers, suggests that something more ambitious lies at the heart of this band—something that, when finally and fully realized, might be quite astounding and powerful.
At 52 minutes, the album is at least 10 minutes too long and the sometimes-confusing running order only helps accentuate the matter. Perhaps had the Zmeds and Herberg focused their energies a little more closely on creating a concise and more musically consistent record, we’d be holding a real whopper of a release. Instead, we have a pretty good recording that suggests that this outfit has, as a British punter might say, loads of potential. Let’s wait and see what these lovable Janks come up with next. If this is any indication, it might very well knock us on our keesters.