There has been a long-existing trend in the underground music world of once teeth-gnashing leading men (or women) essentially castrating their musical prowess and distancing themselves from the rough-edged abrasive sounds from which their careers were born. To speak of a specific era or subgenre of indie rock, take for example the career paths of Eric Bachmann (Archers of Loaf) starting Crooked Fingers, Bob Nanna (Braid) and his Hey Mercedes project, Blake Schwarzenbach (Jawbreaker) forging a new path with Jets to Brazil, and Jeremy Enigk (Sunny Day Real Estate) coming back into the spotlight with The Fire Theft. The list is innumerable, and for every success in venturing into new melodic territory, there are even more that traverse entirely unexplored levels of mediocrity. Opinions may vary, but California’s The Jealous Sound have been known to straddle a fine line between the two, with front man Blair Shehan going for a smoother vocal practice after splitting from seminal ’90s emo band Knapsack and debuting his current project in 2000.
Fast forward through some expected inner turmoil from being part of a nationally touring band with troubles stemming from a major label disappointment and distribution deals gone sour (something which absolutely never happens in the music world) and the band parted ways in the mid-late 2000’s, all but falling off the radar for those that were not loyal fans. In 2009, Sunny Day Real Estate came back together to play a much-anticipated reunion tour (with a noticeable lack of a Missouri or Kansas date), and brought The Jealous Sound on board with them as an opener for the run of the cross-country excursion. This evidently only quenched the thirst of Shehan and company (which now included drummer Bob Penn and Sunny Day/Fire Theft bassist Nate Mendel, in addition to co-founder and guitarist Pedro Benito), and work on a new album began shortly after. Side note, the major label difficulties the band were experiencing early on were due to their home label of Mojo being sold off by Universal Music Group. The new album has been released by UMG subsidiary Fontana Distribution. Forgive and forget, I suppose.
Upon first listen, one could easily surmise that A Gentle Reminder is but that; a relic of an era that has already ceased to be, and an indecisive step forward into a new epoch of the band’s existence. The intro track does nothing to disprove this, with “Beautiful Morning” sounding more like background noise from an episode of Grey’s Anatomy than a product of the man who once wrote Knapsack’s throat-scratching “Decorate the Spine.” Those who are not dedicated listeners (or have taken it upon themselves to review the album), or consider bands like The Fray to be actual, honest to goodness listenable music (known as the How To Ride One Single For Six Years Syndrome), may have bowed out before the first track was completed. I would ask the discerning listener to push this compulsion aside and stick with the task, as it’s only uphill from there.
The nucleus of the album is rife with mid-tempo singalong pop anthems like “This Is Where It Starts” and “Here Comes the Ride,” and the latter half closes out the strongest with a three track set that completes the listening experience with “Waiting For Your Arrival,” one of the more musically upbeat tunes present in the ten song opus. While my impulsive first-listen assessment that Reminder is nothing more than 45 minutes of radio-ready pseudo-pop dreck that would be better suited for the BeDazzled jogging iPod of a suburban housewife was not entirely inaccurate, there is something to be said for the album providing far more calculated fortitude than the week-old beer stain on a soiled paper-thin futon that some will refer to as modern radio pop.
The Jealous Sound will be performing at Riot Room with Anakin on February 20th.