Jacksonknife - You Don't Know What You're Talking About
Record Label: None
Release Date: November 27, 2008
There's a popular saying that goes, "You only get one chance to make a first impression." When a listener pops in a new band's debut release, their ears are a blank canvas that can be shaped in any number of different ways. With this power, many popular bands nowadays choose to play it safe. They opt to find a compromise between mainstream taste and their own sound as to not alienate the listener right off the bat.
However, with their debut EP You Don't Even Know What You're Talking About, Jacksonknife, a New York-based Americana/indie band, proves they are not one of those bands.
On the opener, "Truthfully," a drum beat and tambourine taps lead into sudden, energetic horn blasts. Sliding in behind the build-up is a jangly guitar riff and Jeremy Kirkland's twangy voice, and as the track progresses, the guitars and horns meld together, playing in unity as if they were a single instrument. Meanwhile, Kirkland spouts memorable lines throughout, such as: "Well I never call home unless I'm scared / that the Rapture's coming and I'm not prepared / because honestly all the people I really care about live."
With the Eastern-European sounding "Healthy Diets," a darker mood is created where the peppy horn blasts are traded for somber wails from an accompanying violin. Bassist Evan Johnson does a good job provided the lead bass line for the track and, along with guitarist Noah Stitelman, provides haunting backup vocals when echoing the line: "I won't leave you here."
"The Morning" showcases the bands love for squeezing as many instruments into a single song as possible. The track begins with stabbing guitar riffs and a bouncy vocal delivery from Kirkland. However, soon violinist Brian Harney enters and begins a back-and-forth battle between his violin and the guitars. As the track continues, delicate xylophone taps, hand-claps, and gang vocals are all added over the already expansive sound.
The group once more shifts their sound with "Covered Ears," slowing down the tempo in the piano-driven track, once more punctuated with Harney's somber violin notes. Halfway through the EP, this track is the first to push Kirkland's voice to the forefront. While his croons meld well for the majority of the track, his voice can get grating when he tries to hold higher notes.
My personal favorite on the EP goes to "Catholics," a stripped-down acoustic track with a very raw vibe. Kirkland finally appears to grab the spotlight. Gliding over the topic of religion, he illustrates an imaginary conversation in which he asks Pope John Paul III if he ever questioned his faith, to which Kirkland yelps: "He closed the door and kicked me out / and that's all I ever heard." Although musically the most basic on the disc, the simplicity of the track provides the only moment of connection between the listener and Kirkland on the EP. Notice the emotion emitted when he hums, "Oh my love, oh please, oh please / just tell me what you're thinking of."
The closer, "Rate Plan," is a straight-forward pop song. Drummer Tom Rolsak keeps a steady beat that pulls all the other instruments together, standing out as the only track in which the band seems to be playing as one cohesive unit. Harney's violin sings joyfully near the end of the track before the EP closes with a few ticks of a metronome.
The large misstep seen in the EP is that the band may have focused too much on the instrumentation. Although the diversity in the music keeps the listeners drawn in, it often drowns out Kirkland, not allowing the listener to hear his vocal or lyrical potential. As well, the many instruments and contrasting sounds at times make the band appear to be on different pages musically. The variation between the instruments can be as distracting as it is interesting.
However for a debut release, the most promising thing about Jacksonknife is that they are not afraid to experiment. Each track provides a new sound, usually new instruments, and the listener never once thinks, "This sounds the same as the last one."
In "Truthfully," Kirkland sings "I was biting off more than I can chew / trying to make like there was more to do / I just want to hear a sound that's real." This paraphrases Jacksonknife's code extremely well: a search for a sound that's real. At times they become too ambitious, but those times are a direct result of a push towards their hope of forming a completely unique sound. If nothing else, it is refreshing to see a band coming out of the gates not worried about doing too much. So whether your first impression of Jacksonknife is a good or bad one, at least they made the impression without holding anything back.