|« Find yourself some Forever||So Swift »|
Album Mon Apr 09 2007
It's to no small degree of anticipation that Chicago's The Jai-Alai Savant released its debut LP, Flight of the Bass Delegate, this past week. Equally due to the take-notice served with prior EP Thunderstatement and to frontman Ralph Darden's sidework as DJ Major Taylor, the band has netted a fair amount of attention, both here and elsewhere. And here's to making a grand entrance.
By way of an opener, Jai-Alai get things rolling in a dark and heavy mode with "Datamassagana" — a tune that plays off both the title and primary melodic riff from The Abyssinians' classic Trench Town devotional, "Satta Massa Gana." The track's swollen, plaintive horn chorus sets a haunting, ominous tone for what’s to follow, its skulking bassline connoting dread in both senses of the word. No sooner does it fade, then the band strips gears by launching into a whiplash-inducing trio of tunes of punk-pedigreed pop. This back-and-forth manner of navigating between styles — from rock to dub and then back again — plows a twisting path, lending the album a varied sense of balance and pacing.
As far as the more pop-ish songs are concerned, the band's material and performance is propulsive and downright jubilant; a bit bouncy, even — yet they avoid treading into clichéd anthematic domain. As a songwriter, Darden (thankfully) steers clear of emo subjectivisms, instead offering lyrics that are wryly allusive and rich in metaphor, that connect the micro- of personal relationships to the macro- of larger societal and cultural issues — the imbalances of power and certainty that keep us sometimes ambivalent, doubtful, or constantly guessing about the dynamics of our lives.
Scattered throughout the album are odd, experimentalist interludes, replete with abrasive electronic effects, shortwave radio frequencies washing in and out, samples from old movies and radio programs crackling through the ether, that thread the thing with a sense of ghostly signal-drift from some cultural netherwhere. By and large, the band keeps its repertoire tightly compact, reining themselves in to three-minute bursts, on average. The main exception being the nearly eight minute-long "Transmission From The Delegate," a sprawling roots-rocker in which the riddim gets brilliantly volleyed about from one section of the band to another with nary a fumble. Sure, the dub formula’s been frequently engaged in the name of post-rock eclecticism, only to meet with tepid results in most instances. Foot-shuffling skank, rock-steady basslines, fleshed out with the help of a horn section, and spaciously soaked down with generous reverb — it's a style that Jai-Alai take to quite adeptly, the rhythm section brings the proper amount of blood and fire to put it over.
As far as overall musical sensibility is concerned, the album reflects a band taking a solid first step. Clocking in at barely over forty minutes, it's sharply executed and astutely paced, sophisticated enough to make its share of passing nods to edginess while greeting accessibility with a firm handshake. In the end, Flight of the Bass Delegate is as bold and sure-footed a debut as one could hope for.
[The Jai-Alai Savant's recordings are available via Gold Standard Labs.]