(Other Electricites; 2007)

By Conrad Amenta | 23 February 2007

Fun facts: “Ion Crush (Remix),” a minimalist patter beat and the figment of distant pianos, appeared in its original form as the soundtrack to a video promo for Nike’s ill-fated foray into the skate shoe market, while also holding down a brief stint as background stimuli for a snowboard company’s website; “Ghost and Grey” and “The Temptation of Joy,” both ostensibly mission statement enough to justify their respective positions as album opener and closer, will accompany snowboard and ski team footage on an upcoming Norwegian company’s DVD release; when earlier this month I swapped Myspace messages with Scott Worley (one half of this duo, in a conversation during which he accurately described “Fashion Whore” as the band’s secret weapon), he was nursing a broken foot. Conclusions: though Jatun’s apparent athleticism is less overtly stated than LCD Soundsystem’s recent jogging companion 45:33 (also a Nike spot), it appears that maybe there’s something intrinsically Xtreme about Jatun’s particular brand of M83-inspired shoegaze. Or something inherently gushy about people who document throwing their body down the side of snowy mountains.

Like my review of Nathan Fake’s Drowning In a Sea of Love (2006), I’m here forced to impose on simply pretty music an overlying critical premise. With Nathan Fake it was a question of whether or not it’s fair to evaluate an album as a sum of its influences, which it readily called to mind. With Jatun, against all stylistic implications, it’s snowboarding (same difference, right). But my flailing in this regard is of sincere effort, indicative of how simultaneously difficult it is to describe this debut without resorting to superficial stylistic flashcards or factoids mined from the internet’s vast tar fields and of how much this Portland group and their tiny independent label have really sold me. Jatun is a refreshingly uncomplicated, fluently beautiful listen, stacked high and densely with melody, soundly sequenced and rarely unengaged.

Worley and band mate Alan Grosvenor demonstrate a remarkably broad songwriting scope for a band that uses such a select, disciplined assortment of tones and beats -- the stratospheric crunch of noise, the plump keyboard siren, the methodical click of a laptop snare -- and it’s a feat vaguely reminiscent of guitar-driven rock’s pre-Pro Tools days, when the creativity of the musician in arranging available sounds trumped today’s anything-is-possible, sampling-enabled deluge. Jatun is not a terribly complex record, with depths to plumb and confuse or details that will naturally appeal to only those with the appropriately acquired taste. Instead, it’s an accessible, pressing, tuneful, and extremely promising instrumental pop debut.

The “Ghost and Grey” tandem, like M83’s “Run Into Flowers,” initially repeats its vocal mantra behind an infectious keyboard bop before metamorphosing into its mid-tempo cousin; the formula is repeated elsewhere, and effectively, though never quite feels redundant or forced. “Zombie Hotel” is meditative and comparatively removed relative to “Bee Bee,” but the two sound far better in sequence than they might have pulled from the comfortable embrace of this dozy track list. Each song may be at least partially bound by its shared affinity for disintegrating waves of melody, but almost every melody is also strong enough and given so central a role in the context of each song as to ultimately distinguish the song from the album as a whole.

My sole criticism is that some of the beats take a backseat to the each song’s hyper-melodic foci: “Fashion Whore,” the chorus for which is a memorable, melancholic allegation, is backed by a repetitive, rarely-varying and arguably thin beat. “A Reason for Enigmas” is straightforward in its unashamed uplift, but it’s the song’s breakdown to half-time that shines an unfortunate light on the occasional gap in rhythmic ideas. In other places, like the joyous “Bee Bee,” the stuttering bass drum is a perfect complement that argues in the group’s favor, but it’s an inconsistency emboldened by the intentional and careful selectiveness of Jatun’s sounds.

My initial assumption was that Jatun’s genre imposes its selectiveness on the listener, limiting, despite its lack of literal lyrical content, the possibilities for emotional resonance: that all the hyper-drama of melody overload implies only one way to enjoy Jatun. Others, like Nathan Fake or M83, more often than not acknowledge that intuition and validate my assumption with their brief lyrical or art-related decisions. But Jatun, though squarely in the confines of the genre, never quite suggests the same (see titles like “Zombie Hotel”). This is an album that seems blissfully aware of the possibilities for both musician in performance and listener in interpretation. And snowboarding has somehow been added to my admittedly limited repertoire of images associated with this kind of music. In that context, the fineness of tonal scope implies what I should have implied from the beginning: it’s as if this debut is excited about its own potential.