Text Khalid Azizuddin
For simplicity’s sake, let us use the catch-all term ‘difficult pop’ to neatly isolate all notable leftfield pop acts since the turn of the century. Criticism generally centres on two opposing poles; either they are clumsy with indulgence and sentimentality or technically proficient but clinical (read: academic). There doesn’t seem to be an elegant middle ground either. Let us consider the second album of bleeding heart/Grammy-winner Bon Iver. While orchestral arrangements delicately added much needed texture and depth to the Bon Iver sound, certain quarters derided it as an ‘overblown debacle’, a desperate attempt at a masterpiece. Perhaps it is only human. We cannot imagine a writer as a trembling wreck when the handwriting is precise and steady.
Perhaps this ‘difficult pop’ band can satiate the critics – those talentless vultures! First impressions are promising. Adult Jazz met at the esteemed music program at Leeds University and their debut is three summers worth of fine tuning concepts and fleshing them out. In penance for the sin of formal training, Adult Jazz tries oh-so-very-hard. On ‘Spook’, there is a lull between two bits and doubled by a solitary riff, vocalist Burgess enunciates, “And I do not take it lightly.” He repeats once more and this time ‘do’ and ‘not’ fall heavy and earnest, just in case we missed it the first time around. It feels churlish not to wish good fortune to this self-producing, self-recording (in a self-built studio), self-releasing band.
The last track on Gist Of shares enough of the albums tendencies to warrant scrutiny. ‘Bonedigger’ has a meandering, spiky narrative; exposition, conflict, climax, and resolution stitched together with a surprising coherence. This is mostly thanks to the wordless, rhythmic coda to each act. Surprisingly affecting but with enough camp flamboyance, it could be shoehorned into a song-and-dance number from The Little Mermaid. The lyrics do little to dispel the overtones of grave robbing that the title conjures. Echoed by finger picked guitar, Burgess bleats “He is at the bottom of us, he is at the bottom of us.” This is repeated with rising alarm, him in the throes of a sudden macabre realisation. This and countless other set pieces exhibit a proficiency for abruptly changing mood and direction. Instrumentation is brisk but considered, more often taking cues from the vocal melody than exercising autonomy. This frees up space and results in a relatively roomy, airy aesthetic.
While the shadows of alt-J, Wild Beasts, Dirty Projectors, etcetera loom near, Adult Jazz plays with a guileless joy that is distinct to them. On ‘Hum’, Burgess’ repeats words and elongates vowels. This is not done to emphasise meaning but with an infant’s glee of discovering a new word, feeling the heft and shape of each new sound, rolling it between tongue and palate. Of course, there are quibbles (songs sound same-y, concepts are only explored superficially, and so forth) but this is an assured and vibrant debut. Absent of the polished sheen that betray new material, these songs could be timeworn lore.
LISTEN TO: ‘Bonedigger’
IF YOU LIKE THIS YOU’LL DIG: alt-J
RATING: 3 ½
2. Am Gone
4. Donne Tongue
5. Pigeon Skulls
7. Idiot Mantra
8. Be A Girl