Jonas Sees in Color - Soul Food EP
Record Label: Self-released
Release Date: Oct. 25, 2012
To put it succinctly, the evolution of Greensboro, NC band Jonas Sees in Color (JSIC) is both puzzling and awkward. Formerly a sextet that wrote piano-driven ballads not unlike The Fray or Snow Patrol, the group was signed to Glassnote Records, the home of Mumford and Sons and Phoenix, to name a few. After the band failed to gain traction with the Glassnote effort, they were subsequently dropped and set about to work on new material.
Working alongside Mitch Easter (REM, et al) and Ted Comerford (Jukebox the Ghost, et al) the group penned the shimmering EP Harvest, a guitar-driven tour-de-force that marked the arrival of a brand new JSIC. On Harvest, the band seemed more poised and polished than ever before and signaled the arrival of a burgeoning new talent in the Carolina scene. In addition to being the band's finest work to date, the EP also marked the first collective effort without pianist Meagan Beth Plummer and founding member/guitarist Jonathan Albright. Though the loss of members (and keys) stripped the band of both a layering and texture, the new material was still strong enough to carry the band forward.
Or so one thought.
Two months after the release of Harvest, JSIC launched a Kickstarter campaign for yet another record, tentatively titled Help! Help!. As a teaser for the album, the quartet released a video for "Help! Help!" in which the band is sporting mohawks, bathed in fluorescent colours, and fighting zombies and skeletons. There was an obvious lean towards punk and Brit-rock and the entire thing felt almost comical. A far cry from The Fray-esque piano-pop indeed. In working on said disc, the quartet was left with a surplus of material. The four-song EP Soul Food is a result of that surplus.
On the whole, the effort is buzzy, fuzzy and most definitely punk inspired. Cocksure and armed with swagger, there is certainly a lot to like, but something feels amiss. There's so much bravado and bluster, it is as if the band has substituted confidence in place of professionalism. Moving even further away from the material on Harvest, Soul Food is an odd and alarming effort that is as much thought-provoking as it is head-scratching. All of this begs the question, is this a concerted effort to shed their proverbial skin and move forward as a completely different entity? If so, why such a sea change? If this is where the band's heart truly rests, then why flirt with piano-pop in the first place? Why still hold onto the JSIC title? Anyone with ears, can hear the blatant and distinct difference in output. Why not just reinvent the band with a new name?
Granted, there are plenty who will find the craggy stylings of "Drugs," and "Slim Jim," to be both charming and exciting, but this writer is certainly not one of them. For one, Ryan Downing as a vocalist sounds limited and fake, almost as if he's a caricature of himself. On the self-titled Glassnote effort, he sounded sincere and plaintive. He was warm, engaging and easy to relate to. In this incarnation, he just seems odd, off-kilter, and eerily alienating. If its not the silliness of "Do the Apocalypse," then its the hilarity of "All My Friends." Where did it all go wrong? How did it all come undone so quickly?
Perhaps the band grew tired of commercial Top 40-leaning piano rock, but if this is their new direction, then this is one of the most disappointing and diverse metamorphic endeavors this writer has seen in quite some time. As much a step backward as it is a slap in the face, Soul Food makes one wonder, if this is the evolution of Jonas Sees in Color, then perhaps extinction is a better solution. In their current state, all of it seems lost, confused and an aimless cry for attention.
I really like this band. I've seen them live a couple of times, and it's really odd. I wonder what happened with the old stuff. When I saw them in August they didn't play a single song off of the s/t.
As for this new sound, I'm waiting to hear what their full length will sound like.