Working for a Nuclear Free City

JoJo Burger Tempest

(Melodic; 2010)

By David M. Goldstein | 15 October 2010

Manchester’s Working for a Nuclear Free City’s opening salvo was their 2006 self-titled debut, a new millennial update on all things ’90s Madchester. The record touched upon the pastoral pop of the Stone Roses, was huge with Happy Mondays hooks, and then fully delivered on Jason Pierce-style comedowns—all while supplemented with heavy doses of electronics (i.e. furious laser rifle noises) and headphone panning. Primarily a dance record, what it may have lacked in originality it more than made up for in catchiness. Its martial drums and ginormous bass lines were capable of jump-starting a cadaver.

That said, it’s release on North American shores was extremely limited, so many had their first introduction to WFANFC via the double-disc compilation Businessmen & Ghosts (2006). Ghosts, which in addition to a reshuffled version of the first LP also included the Rocket EP (2007) and a handful of previously unreleased tracks, showcased a band equally adept at Beta Band-like psych-pop and vicious dance numbers. “Rocket” still may be their strongest single recording to date, a hypnotic groove that filtered Hendrix’s “Third Stone from the Sun” through a spooky echo chamber, every bit as epic as the shuttle-launch footage in its video.

Clearly these guys are blessed with prolificacy. And yet they claim that the four year gap between their official debut and JoJo Burger Tempest was partially due to writer’s block. But, fittingly, JoJo ultimately comes off like a jam-packed sketchbook brimming with all manner of ideas and figures, only occasionally coalescing into proper bangers.

Or maybe that was the idea all along. While the debut seemed posited as a dance record, JoJo is far more of the requisite “listening experience,” tailor-made for long walks, quiet contemplation in the park, and good headphones. Less than half of the first disc’s songs contain vocals; unlike the band’s earlier material, when vocals do show they’re pushed far down in the mix, used primarily for hazy atmosphere. And I mean hazy. Despite the fact that WFANFC’s instrumentation never sounds less than hi-tech, nearly every song is filtered through a kind of pleasantly mellow mid-fi production, even when the beats are at their most frantic. Think what might have happened if Tortoise and Isotope 217 somehow ended up signed to Slumberland instead of Thrill Jockey.

When they aren’t making records, WFANFC have been commissioned for documentary soundtrack work, a move which makes sense. I’d be extremely curious to see them onstage—at this point they almost feel like a collective of quality producers more than a proper band, and sometimes it’s tough to tell where the programming stops and the live instruments begin.

The production values and abundance of live drums are JoJo‘s constants, allowing the album to somewhat function as a whole even when the band remains all over the place. Speedy opener “Do a Stunt” sounds like a lost instrumental from Yes’ Fragile (1970) with a bass line so incredibly Chris Squire that I wouldn’t be surprised if the Fish played it himself. First single “Silent Times” follows with a return to Stone Roses pop; “Autoblue” is a burbling laptop odyssey that features the same chord progression as Stevie Nicks’ “Stand Back”; “Pachinko” evokes visions of a bustling marketplace filmed in stop-time; “B.A.R.R.Y.” sounds like a fantastic Beach House track. The album is literally all over the place, influenced by seemingly everything—and if properly “influenced,” I can think of no better way to kill three minutes than cloud-gazing with “A Black Square With Four Yellow Stars” on my headphones.

As for the title track, it’s a thirty-plus minute suite running through at least twenty different motifs supposedly culled from over 1000. It’s the only track on Disc Two, said to have been influenced by hip-hop mixtapes, and it serves as a microcosm for Working for a Nuclear Free City in general: overstuffed with ideas and ADD to a fault, but never, ever boring.