In the fall of 2018, I picked up another Merge Records sampler CD from the counter of one record store or another. As always, it was loaded with bangers from the indie-rock label’s powerhouse lineup. But this was an especially great turnout, including Mike Krol’s noise-doused punk fusillade “An Ambulance”, Hollie Cook’s breezy reggaeton number “Survive”, and Superchunk’s comeback jam “Erasure”.
However, the best song on the disc, the one I played over and over again in my car as autumn sunshine gave way to the slate-colored clouds of Ohio winter, was “Mother Man” by a band called Jade Hairpins. At the time, the group had one other song to their name and no biographical information available on the internet, at least that I could find. I played “Mother Man” for friends, describing it beforehand as a software-programmed acid-house DJ set filler that blossoms into a seven-minute-long arena-rock anthem with a barely-intelligible and undoubtedly inspiring chorus sung by a Brandon Flowers soundalike over a maximalist audio barrage like summer sun bursting through rainclouds. Or something like that. If I had to make a top-ten list of favorite songs from that year, “Mother Man” probably takes number one.
Now it’s the summer of 2020, and Jade Hairpins have released an album, Harmony Avenue, and revealed themselves to be Jonah Falco and Mike Haliechuk from the Canadian punk band Fucked Up. (That reminds me, another banger from that Merge compilation was “Raise Your Voice Joyce”, in which melodic guitar fuzz mingles with spit-flinging growls and the whole thing is topped off by, of all things, a saxophone solo.)
“Mother Man,” now spelled “Motherman”, appears where it should, as the climactic, burst-your-brain-matter-all-over-the-wall-and-smear-it-into-a-Renaissance-mural album closer. The nine tracks that come before can’t match its catharsis, but that’s an unfair comparison. We’re talking about a song some might describe as a flaming chariot riding into a retina-scorching supernova that showers down variegated flower arrangements unknown to this planet. Or something like that. Anyway, when listeners stop hitting repeat on “Motherman” somewhere around the 50th listen and play through the rest of the album, they’ll discover that Harmony Avenue is a solid first full-length outing for the duo, with some notable bright spots.
“J Terrapin” opens the album with a galvanized block of vocal harmony that gives way to a cheery piano melody and some impressive guitar work in the left channel that surfs alongside the vocal dips and crests. “Broadstairs Beach” sounds like Ian Dury treating the Blockheads to a Malibu getaway where the band links up with the Shins at a poolside minibar. “(Don’t Break My) Devotion” boasts post-punk flavored guitars overtop rave-friendly acid squelches and electronic percussion. The song also includes vocal contributions from what sounds like a chemically mutated and hallucinogen-addled chipmunk. Or something like that.
The penultimate song, “Truth Like a Mirage”, is a merry lesson about the blindness of thinking you know more than you actually do. There are syrupy synths, glinting piano melody, some choice drumstick clicking, maraca shaking, and a hooky, earworm-inducing chorus. But clocking in at 1:49, the song feels truncated, abruptly ending before offering the third shot of tasty chorus it makes you crave.
Harmony Avenue exudes the free-spirited exuberance of a side project. It’s the sort of album that’s a blast to listen to in part because it leads you to imagine how much of a blast it must have been to make. Listeners expecting another metropolis-decimating anthem-like “Motherman” should be sated by the lineup of shorter songs jam-packed with ideas and vivid tone colors and aimed for both the melodic and harmonic sweet tooth. Someone discovering Jade Hairpins will enjoy a well-executed indie-pop album before the chorus of “Motherman” douses their brain circuitry in a tidal wave of euphoric bedlam that rearranges the wiring, setting cords ablaze, triggering hundreds of tiny explosions like a heap of holiday sparklers coruscating in a frenzy of polychromatic ocean water.
For me, at least, it feels exactly like that.