One of the stronger debut albums of 2008, Jupiter One manage to play in a variety of styles, yet maintain a coherent sound and a surprisingly strong groove.
Jupiter One is a New York City five-piece led by songwriters K Ishibashi and Zac Colwell. Ishibashi handles the lead vocals, while both men contribute guitars and various synths. Colwell also pops up here and there using flutes and clarinets. The band also features Ishibashi's girlfriend Mocha on synths, violin, and backing vocals, while Benjamin Wright (bass) and Dave Heilman (drums and percussion) comprise the rhythm section. If you haven't guessed already, Jupiter One's sound is kind of a stew. Their self-titled debut album covers a lot of different styles while managing to maintain a funky, new wave-infused base.
After the one-minute soundscape "Intro for Ani Enorda", Jupiter One really takes off with "Countdown", an infectious song that rides a stuttering guitar riff and strong backbeat during the verses, only to open up into full rock mode with a huge, synth-infused chorus. Ishibashi's singing is a plus as well -- his voice is clear and slides easily between a mid-range tenor and falsetto. The album maintains its strong start with "Moon Won't Turn", a Colwell song that recalls The Bends-era Radiohead. At least, until you pay attention the bizarre, amusing lyrics with lines like, "The streets won't burn / No matter how fast we take the turns" and "The dead won't rise / No matter how much I like surprises". Next up, swirling synths give way to the disc's moment of pure, blissful pop in the bouncy "Unglued".
The band keeps the hot streak going with the next two songs, "Mystery Man" and "Turn Up the Radio". The former starts off with a gentle acoustic guitar and soft keyboards, and Ishibashi practically whispering the lyrics. While basically nonsensical, the chorus has the ear-catching refrain "Cause there I am / Filled with plaster / The same fucking bastard / Mystery Man". And the song itself builds up effectively, both in the arrangement and volume level. "Turn Up the Radio" is a mid-tempo new wave-style track that features Mocha's violin prominently in the verses and '80s-sounding synths in the choruses. Once again, Ishibashi comes up with a line that catches the ear among a pile of generally obtuse lyrics: "Someday / You'll see / That it's not a democracy" seems a bit out of place, but it still grabs the listener's attention.
If Jupiter One had managed to keep it together for the second half of the album, they might have had one of the best debuts of the year on their hands. Unfortunately, the second half of the record drags until Colwell's "Kamikaze Pilots" near the end. It's a dark song with a deep groove laid down by the rhythm section and effectively contrasted with a spacey-sounding chorus. The disc also includes two bonus tracks (apparently the band self-released this album way back in November of 2005), "Umbrellas" and "Summer Song". "Umbrellas" starts off very interestingly, with a delicate, music box-like melody, then builds into a big choral rock song. Then it sadly drags along for about two extra minutes that it really doesn't need. "Summer Song" fares better. Instead of a bright, happy tune, it brings back the dark feel of "Kamikaze Pilots", but the groove is even deeper, resembling all-out disco, or at least !!!.
Even with a saggy back end, Jupiter One is a really strong album. The first half is as good as anything I've heard so far this year, and "Kamikaze Pilots" and "Summer Song" keep your attention in the latter section. The band is adept at shifting styles and moods while still sounding like the same group, and the strong rhythm section keeps the songs surprisingly dance-friendly. Ishibashi and Colwell are promising songwriters, and the variety of sounds and instruments used here keeps the band from sounding too much like its indie-rock peers.