The latest from the Joggers stands as the epitome of indie, which somehow renders it inessential.
Thousands of years of indie-rock have led to this moment: the Joggers' new album With a Cape and a Cane. The band members may or may not have studied their ancestors, but this album suggests that if they aren't using historical knowledge to artistic effect, then they're the product of a sort of institutional memory (possibly disproving the proof of such a thing's non-existence). The band has lo-fi guitar rock with slightly oblique but expressive lyrics down to a tee. They do it just right, which is why Cape remains simultaneously the epitome of and an inessential part of the group's genre.
While Stephen Malkmus fans might file this under the Pavement heading in their CD collections, the Joggers aren't entirely derivative. "Ziggurat Traffic" begins with a pleasant, Eastern guitar part, which could set the group for the failure of exoticism or appropriation, but they work it well, using unlikely intervals to set the tone of the song. The melody lines and guitar lend the sense of unpredictability to the track, which matches its lyrics of loss and chaos.
But more often, the Joggers rely on the indie formula. "Horny Ghost" -- which has unfortunately little to do with spectral libido -- could have been written by any number of small-label bands that pass through your town (often phantom-like, if your local coverage is like mine). The song isn't bad, even if it pales to any number of Casper tracks from the Unicorns. In fact, it's kind of catchy and well-done. You just don't need to go to the Joggers to hear it. The group's so emblematic of a certain lineage that they simply disappear into it.
"Wicked Light Sleeper" splits the difference between the group's innovative and derivative sides. It opens with a groove that could have come from a Franz Ferdinand demo -- nice, dance-y hook, but with no oomph. The bassline guides the tune, but it needs a bigger tone for this type of song. The Joggers pick themselves up, though, by weaving in unusual guitar lines (insert "angular" or "jagged" as you please). As the song's cohesion disintegrates among scattered vocals and conflicting guitar, it's intrigue factor rises considerably. The song ends on a high note, but hitting repeat sends you back to disappointment. It's as if the group kept getting ideas as they went, adding them as they thought of them, but not to give the song any direction or statement.
Although the lyrics aren't always successful, the Joggers do avoid cliches like the plague, and other less-cited nuisances. "Night of the Horsepills" offers a particularly memorable line: "I'll play the listing doctor, righted by the rube". Aurally, it's a treat, rhythmically well-constructed and utilizing the consonance of the "t" sound and the alliteration in the second half. The sentence employs a metaphor within a metaphor (the narrator as doctor as ship), which could sink it the works, if it weren't so pleasing. The song builds from that line, with references to people as deer, nurses, and more, until you finally realizing the levels of acting (professionally and emotionally) being discussed here. The singer's declaration that he'll return "with a cape and a cane, and [his] frail restraints" stands as artistic bravado knowingly disguising internal hurt, and it marks the album's most moving moment.
This kind of artistry occurs on occasion on this disc, but not frequently enough to save it from the music that could have come from a computer program designed to spit out the definition of indie. The Joggers do their thing very well, but it too often turns into camoflauge, as if the artistic presentation is more a study in form than a revelation. Mayve for the next album, they'll drop the cape and give us something to look at.