Agile, noisy experimentalists add a vocalist and get both more straightforward and more daring.
It’s possible to get tired of literally anything in the world, given enough time. One of the great glories and sometimes downfalls of humans is that we can get used to practically anything that doesn’t actually kill us, and when it comes to art no work is so radical that the ear and eye can’t eventually acclimatize to it with time and effort. This happens on the other side, too; artists frequently worry that they’re overusing a particular technique, image, or form even when the audience doesn’t, just because as creators they’ve gotten so used to it.
That kind of innovation fatigue can be especially perilous for a band like JOBS (killer BOB before this release), one that already started in pretty rarified, occasionally puzzling air. Older work like 2012’s Fear May Be a Builder reveals plenty of off-kilter rhythmic interplay and flexible skronk, the kind of music that can sound messy or random at first but reveals hidden melodic depths. It’s not as if writing a good conventional song is necessarily easy, but creating this kind of track doesn’t allow the musicians involved to fall back on certain conventions that you know will sound good. All the same, if you play “Memory Burns” or “Sirens” enough (either listening or performing), you will get to know them.
Whether they were eager to switch things up or move to the next level or what, with the move to JOBS came two key additions to this record that both set apart killer BOB sings from the band’s older work and elevates it on to a different plane. The first big addition is right in the album title; singer Daniel Ellis-Ferris is all over the album, giving these songs an immediately identifiable hook in most cases, but remaining as opaque as the music demands. Even more significantly, though, the band retained producer Shannon Fields (ex-Stars Like Fleas, now the mastermind of the incredible, underrated Leverage Models). Fields is both a keen connoisseur of pop and someone with deep experience in more experimental/avant garde/improvisational forms of music, and he brings both sides of his past work to his work with JOBS.
Fields didn’t just play on and produce the record (gorgeously), though; he set the band homework assignments fitting their desire to keep the heart of their music while becoming more immediately, viscerally effective and understood. True, telling JOBS to write a pop hit tends to result in something like “Down to the Root,” frenetic and elegiac in turn, and the languid ballad “Fed Well” does eventually supplement its graceful glide with a drum/bass attack like a heart arrhythmia, not to mention whatever “Rhythm Changes” is (insanely tight mathrock with Ellis triple-timing vocals to match nearly every note, maybe?). The songs are produced in a clear, lush way that sets the focus entirely on the core trio of Max Jaffe, Rob Lundberg, and Dave Scanlon and what they can to, with Ellis-Ferris fitting in wholly naturally.
The record opens with “Patient Angel", which sounds a little bit like Scott Walker circa Tilt before segueing into a lurching, menacing lope and finally erupting into noise and hellish horns by the end. Any part of the song would be tricky for a band to nail; that JOBS, including Fields, do all three so well is a testament to how accomplished this album is, and what a forward step it is for the band. These songs may be easier to initially approach, may feel more like actual (err) songs, but they’ve got all the weird innovation and steadfast wrongfooting of JOBS’ old work with a newly pronounced sense of swing and attack. It’s rare that a band becomes both more conventional (or ‘conventional’) and more daring at the same time, but killer BOB sings manages just that.