JOBS thrive on tension. Their music is suffused with jitters and anxiety. Monotone-sung mantras, shards of twitchy effects, electric guitar bursts, atonal squalls: it’s not unusual to hear all of this within the first minute or two of any given JOBS song. It’s a style they mined on their previous full-length albums, killer BOB sings (2015) and Log on for the Free Chance to Log on for Free (2018), as well as last year’s seven-inch single Similar Canvas (a collaboration with Arkansas-based visual artist Sam King). With endless birthdays, JOBS are back and while they haven’t exactly reinvented the wheel, they’ve refined their sound to the point where this may be their most accomplished, satisfying release yet.
The successful implementation of their lovably bizarre sound is due in large part to the instrumentation. JOBS are no typical quartet. While Dave Scanlon and Rob Lundberg respectively handle guitar and bass duties, they also contribute keyboard parts, with vintage equipment at that: the use of Casio MT-100 synths and a Farfisa VIP 400 give the songs an off-kilter retro buzz. Jessica Pavone’s viola – which can also be heard to breathtaking effect on her 2019 string ensemble album, Brick and Mortar – adds a unique layer, and Max Jaffe’s drum kit is equipped with Sensory Percussion, specially designed sensors that attach to the drums and trigger electronic samples.
It’s this combination of unconventional artists playing somewhat unconventional gear that inspires songs like the tension-filled opener, “A Toast”, which sounds like Robert Fripp meeting up with Laurie Anderson after binging Devo’s early albums. As the music thrashes robotically around him, Scanlon recites a monotonous diatribe: “We see through your wealthy games / But through these cosmic displays we demonstrate that we are not tied / Fuck games / Fuck toys / Fuck super soakers.”
The momentum is maintained with the relentless, maddening “Brian”. The band collectively sing of the attainability of creating the life you want: “What is wrong with wanting more than what is given / What is missing / Quit your bitching / Find a new way to relate to your desires.” The tempo shifts back and forth, making room for a quick, atonal shtar (modified guitar synth) solo by Matt Mehlan of Skeletons, who also mixed and mastered the album. Fellow Skeletons alum Cyrus Pireh also contributes an epic guitar solo on the wistful, motorik-tilted closer, “3 Being 2”. Adding to the weird, otherworldly tension, “Brian” concludes with an odd, metallic sizzle – courtesy of Jaffe’s Sensory Percussion, most likely – sounding like fried computer circuits.
Music videos were also created for “A Toast” and “Brian”, and they speak to the band’s unconventional artistic pursuits, as the former video is a stunning piece of performance art, and the latter can only be described as a Google doc tutorial on acid. A third video was made for “Opulent Fields”, a song that seems to be JOBS’ attempt at creating something relatively “normal” (despite lyrics that touch on the laissez-faire attitude of American gun violence). A warm, syncopated rhythm hums through the song as Scanlon sings in the gentle cadence of a 1980s indie-pop songwriter with occasional guitar atonality creeping in, not unlike Gary Lucas crashing a Prefab Sprout recording session.
On songs like “Opulent Fields” or the relatively low-key “Words About Shapes”, there seem to be traces of pop convention lurking below the surface. One gets the impression that JOBS could undoubtedly crank out catchy hooks and engaging, radio-friendly earworms if they wanted to. But why bother? Lundberg’s description of the JOBS modus operandi is, after all, “Make the bizarre and uncomfortable accessible, and make the accessible bizarre.” That is something they do all too well. On “Striped Cotton Blanket”, Pavone’s viola creates a dramatic, droning sound that runs in and out of the song. The galloping, insistent beat is accompanied by the band’s deadpan lyrical recitations, occasionally interrupted by stinging static and guitar bursts courtesy of John Dieterich of Deerhoof (a group whose influence is embedded in the JOBS’ DNA). Who would want to do anything close to normal if they can achieve this kind of artistic madness?
“Planned Humans”, the album’s only instrumental, takes things a step further as it sounds like a computer program that spits out jazz fusion suddenly began wildly malfunctioning. Underneath the din of stuttering beats and distortion, jazz motifs can almost be heard and picked apart, made easier by the appearance of Steven Lugerner’s unhinged soprano sax. The track is a bit of a stylistic departure from the rest of the album, but it indeed contains the same amount of tweaked insanity.
“Deliberate and cautious these grounds knowing slow tempos,” Scanlon sings in “3 Being 2”. “Spine kissed in rows / Hair pulled back with your neck exposed.” JOBS has an uncanny knack for combining moments of conventional beauty with an almost indescribable level of musical madness. On
endless birthdays, as with their previous works, JOBS have found a way to unearth uncommon beauty out of chaos.