Reviewed by AJ Miranda.
Jaguar Love’s sophomore album, Hologram Jams (Fat Possum), sounds more like a prequel to 2008’s Take Me to the Sea than its follow-up, lacking the maturity, intensity and imagination of its predecessor. Jams has the feel of a bedroom dance experiment created on 808s and Casios during bored summer nights when pot and South Park reruns just weren’t cutting it. But, to be fair, it also sounds like the album you’d make after recording an emotionally draining post-hardcore opus, going through some inconsistent tours, kicking your drummer out of the band and saying, “Fuck it; I just wanna dance.”
Tempting as it might be to offhandedly dismiss the band for jettisoning its original, rawer post-hardcore sound for something simpler and more electro-oriented, I’m not going to. Jaguar Love principals Johnny Whitney and Cody Votolato have been around a while—a decade with scream-tastic Seattle punks The Blood Brothers before recording Jaguar Love’s debut less than a year after the Brothers’ demise in 2007. In the two years since debuting Take Me to the Sea, the band never had a steady touring lineup to recreate the full promise of the album in a live setting. The core trio of vocalist Whitney, guitarist Votolato and drummer Jay Clark remained, but bassists and keyboardists were tough to keep, especially at the same time. Then Clark was kicked out. No drummer, no bass, no keys? Tired of looking for replacements? How do you tour and play live, then? Well, you program beats on a drum machine and call yourself an electro-rock duo. And that’s what Jaguar Love did.
Lazy? Maybe. But I’d argue necessary. This album feels like decompression to anyone who knows the story of the band. It’s like this: If you’ve been through a long and tumultuous relationship with a chick who was cool but really insane and dramatic, and then you followed it with a shorter but no-less-crazy relationship, you would need time off from dating, right? But what if instead of time off, you choose to date a chick that’s totally not your type. She’s drama-free, but she’s also clearly not for you. That’s what Hologram Jams feels like—the sweet, not very exciting girl you dated as a way to chill from the heaviness for a bit.
Consequently, the band goes from writing songs about a cancer-ridden rich Manhattan girl entering a loveless marriage (“Georgia”) and a gambling-addicted absentee father who kills cops (“The Man with the Plastic Suns”), as on their first album, to writing songs about staying up all night and drinking cherry soda on this second album. Emotionally, it’s the difference between driving a Humvee in Afghanistan and driving a Hummer H2 in suburban Portland. On Sea, Whitney used his effortlessly surreal and nightmarish lyrics as a means for talking about coping with death and being haunted by regret and nostalgia. On Jams, his hard-to-match lyrical skills mostly go to waste on WTF lines like Rode a motherfuckin’ mastadon to my high school prom. It’s on, it’s on, it’s on like “Immigrant Song.” Really, Johnny? You’re better than that.
Historical context and excuses aside, the only thing that matters to the casual fan (not Blood Brothers/Jaguar Love fanboys like me) is whether or not the music is good. Period. Does it move me the way Take Me to the Sea did? No. Does it speak to me? No. Is it fun and catchy? Yeah, sometimes. And given that fluffy electro indie bands like Passion Pit are selling out shows at rock venues across the country, you’d think Jaguar Love’s move to dancey beats might be smart. The problem is that Whitney and Votolato are too abrasive and aggressive for their own good. Whitney’s tortured, high-pitched screams are too angry. Votolato’s buzz-saw guitars sound better over live bass and drums. They’re too sincere to make insincere music, so it’s painfully obvious throughout half this album that they should be working with drummers, not drum machines. Bassists, not bass synths. Not that electronic music is inherently flawed. It’s not. But it’s just not for Jaguar Love.
Red River rating: 5 out of 10