Classy Entertainment EP
By Conrad Amenta | 4 June 2008
If reviewing is a matter of judging quality relative to cost—and I admit that I’m not terribly comfortable with the notion of being a self-glorying consumer’s guide to music, especially when the act of consuming itself is in such ambiguous waters these days—then here’s something still irreducible for its simplicity: Jumbling Towers’ new EP is free, and it’s pretty good. If you’re the kind that use music reviews to understand where best to direct your twenty dollar bills, then read no further. The examination herein does nothing to dispel the notion that free indie be free indie. Just go download it and dump it, yelping as it plummets, into the vast gigabyte caverns of your “to listen to” folder. That last Band of Horses record will meet it at the bottom, where it’s rattling a tin cup against a cold, stone floor, to swap stories of past and future stages.
For the rest of us, for whom music reviews may be an end in themselves, I’ll talk about how “Classy Entertainment,” “Fortune,” and “Gamble” distill some of Destroyer’s buried melodies and distend pop sensibilities without Man Man’s sense of back alley carnivalesque. And I’ll talk about how they reach down through muddy abstractions to lift something sonorous clear of the surface but reveal mutated animals, a new natural, from a scene and context but as fresh sounding and likeable as they are immediately all elbows and assholes.
A Top 10 pick by Slim Moon is probably more meaningful than a 75% from yours truly, so there’s that to go on, too. But, by the band’s own words, what’s to be taken from this latest EP is that these are songs (which lends one to the inference, I suppose, that even they consider their debut full-length a bit tetherless). As an entry point for listeners and catalyst for stylistic reorganization, Classy Entertainment manages the Towers’ propensity for theatricality in a more cohesive way, herding song through narrow structures but allowing them to thrash against and from within.
The conundrum is a predictable one: Jumbling Towers sacrifice some minimal degree of distinction for a much greater sense of accessibility. But, like my opening paragraph’s admission that these reviews may just be the tangential homes for a rating system that guides purchase habits, there’s no faulting pragmatism. What use is trying to be truly unique when it’s such a zero sum game? There’s nothing new under the sun, and uniqueness isn’t going to buy enough t-shirts to fill the gas tank, let alone forge a lasting relationship with a band predicated on appreciation and connection. So a band may as well swing for the fences of pop’s ballpark, which is probably harder to do anyway.
There’s a surfeit of freaky-voiced front men and syncopated organ slaps from which to choose these days, and that’s hardly a bad situation to be in given the alternatives. But like my current fixation, last year’s Prints, Jumbling Towers never allow eccentricities to run bull-rampant through the china shop of time-honored pop staples. Songs like “Classy Entertainment,” and even the occasionally furious “Fortune,” are tightly controlled shadows of Gulliver. Antecedents are plentiful, and Jumbling Towers are as likeable as each of ‘em, should this kind of warble and swagger still incite the bloggerati’s enthusiasm.
I’ll again defer to the notion that six-hundred odd words about an EP may in fact be secondary to that great relativist’s word, “free,” which I’ve again appended as a reminder. The act of a music download isn’t quite the same as that populist’s notion that your purchase is as vote in a consumer democracy (not that it was ever quite that simple, anyway), and as far as what is probably a cynic’s view extends I’ll conclude that such a great degree of access also enables the least amount of commitment. But it’s hard for bands like Jumbling Towers to make a dent, even with this really quite good EP, even though they are self-releasing it online, and for free. And that’s a shame, given that bands doing this kind of thing is what it’s supposed to be all about.