Take Me to the Sea
By David M. Goldstein | 30 August 2008
Lazily labeled as a generic “screamo” band when in fact they were far more subversive, the Blood Brothers never got the respect they deserved. Theirs was a particularly unique brand of chaos, destroying the conventions of hardcore through the widespread use of keyboards and a flair for the dramatic suggesting a love of musical theater. Not unlike Mr. Bungle, to whom they were oft compared, they were easily one of the least commercial bands to ever take up residence on a major label, due mostly in part to the stylings of dual vocalists Jordan Billie and Johnny Whitney; they didn’t so much “scream” as shriek like wounded animals, their voices the human equivalent of dog whistles.
Of the two, Whitney always had one up on Billie in the horror show department and part of the fun in writing about the Blood Brothers is being forced to come up with creative metaphors to describe the former’s vocals. Two apt descriptions I’m thinking of right now are Gwen Stefani submerged up to her neck in a vat of boiling oil or the death throes of a pterodactyl having its wing eaten by a tyrannosaurus rex. I’m happy to report that Whitney hasn’t tuned down the theatrics one iota in his new band Jaguar Love, technically a trio containing ex-Blood Brothers guitarist Cody Votolato and drummer Jay Clark (once the guitarist for Pretty Girls Make Graves).
With that line up it’s unsurprising that, at least on the surface, Jaguar Love doesn’t sound all that dissimilar from the Blood Brothers, much in the same way that Future of the Left is initially indistinguishable from Mclusky. But, while anarchy is still splayed out in spades, closer listens reveal an accessible (relatively) glam pop streak that the Blood Brothers began to explore on their underrated swan song Young Machetes (2006). Further, Whitney’s voice has finally started to resemble actual “singing” on the slower numbers, whether playing the Freddie Mercury card on “Georgia” or using a falsetto on “Bonetrees and a Broken Heart” that bizarrely recalls Kate Bush.
The weaklings are “Man With the Plastic Suns” and “Humans Evolve Into Skyscrapers,” both chaotic pud-pounders that, while loud and shrieky, do little to build on the rote Blood Brothers formula, despite the latter containing a nifty lyric about Whitney’s pregnant wife giving birth to a mushroom cloud, or something (Dude wears a ring in Jaguar Love’s EPK. Provided his wife actually is pregnant, at what age do they expose their offspring to Daddy’s music without scarring him/her for eternity?). But when Jaguar Love chooses to apply Whitney’s voice to glam-pop, it results in some gloriously twisted ear candy, the aural equivalent of a vintage Terry Gilliam flick.
First single “Bats Over the Pacific Ocean” is even downright catchy, a chugging acoustic number that sounds like a cousin to Wolf Parade’s recent “The Grey Estates.” Whitney’s pre-chorus invocation of “Happy New Year, mama!” may be the most pleasant five seconds he’s ever recorded without diluting his band’s intensity a smidgen. “Highways of Gold” and “My Organ Sounds Like…” both succeed at similar tricks, blending the howling with dollops of cotton candy to create toddler toys with plenty of tiny parts on which to choke.
The standout is the kind of amazing “Georgia,” a six-minute torch song that borders on soulful and exists somewhere around Mr. Bungle covering Lynyrd Skynyrd’s lighter wave classic “The Ballad of Curtis Loew,” complete with a rollicking “la, la, la, la!” ending and Elton John piano rolls. You too will be posing in the mirror while bellowing “Oh Georgia, take me to the seaaaaa!” after a couple of listens. Right? Please?
The remainder of Take Me To the Sea veers from guitar shred dance numbers (“Antoine and Birdskull,” “Jaguar Pirates”) to falsetto R&B (“Bonetrees and a Broken Heart”) and the lyrics, when you can decipher them, do indeed seem to contain myriad references to the jungle feline from which Jaguar Love derives its namesake. A few duds aside, the album succeeds as an ecstasy pop update on the Blood Brothers’ delirious chaos and nobody who purports to miss that band should ignore it. While I don’t exactly see Jaguar Love expanding their fan base too far beyond established Brothers fans, they stand way more of a chance on Matador than they ever did on V2 and deserve credit for what sounds like an utter refusal to compromise. Johnny Whitney’s voice remains a love it/hate it phenomenon, but with Mike Patton now relegated to the role of label head and sometimes noise terrorist, as far as eye-gouging vocals in the service of creative pop songs are concerned, Whitney’s got the market cornered.