After the break-up of The Blood Brothers, singer Johnny Whitney and guitarist Cody Votolato joined fellow Pacific Northwester Jay Clark, guitarist of the also-late Pretty Girls Make Graves, to form Jaguar Love. On their debut, Take Me To the Sea, the band manages to sound like a combination of the two precedents, while also something totally original.
The first thing that clearly stands out with Jaguar Love is Whitney’s unique vocals – while he looks like something of an emo-kid, he sings like some cross between a high-pitched glam-rocker and a hyper art-punker. The sound isn’t immediately appealing on record, but after a few spins, one acclimates and really starts to enjoy it. In fact, the same could be said about Take Me To the Sea as a whole: on first listen, the record seems rough and rushed, but once one hooks into their sound, there’s no turning back.
Opener “Highways of Gold” is a good introduction to that sound, with Whitney’s signature vocals and a pressing, electric beat from guitarist-turned-drummer Clark. However, it’s the following “Bats Over the Pacific Ocean” which is where Jaguar Love really puts their claws in. Even more pressing, its upbeat dance-march is invigorating and fun. The energy of the band isn’t immediately infectious, but once it gets you, you’re terminal.
Some of the pieces are still a little rough, like the punk-rock adventure “Jaguar Pirates” and the all-over-the-map “Vagabond Ballroom”, but the essential press is revived in the following “Humans Evolve Into Skyscrapers”, with some hard-rock undertones. Meanwhile, there’s a funkier way to the different sorts of drive, verse vs. chorus, in “Antoine and Birdskull”, and the penultimate “The Man With the Plastic Suns” goes epic and alive (reminiscent of a high-pitched “Hang Me Out To Dry” from The Cold War Kids – QRO live review).
However, Take Me isn’t all full-throttle; there are some moments of rest in “Georgia” and “Bonetrees and a Broken Heart”. Both are more relaxed and grooving, and are welcome changes from the record’s relentless energy (and well-spaced in the track listing), if really going on a bit. And finisher “My Organ Sounds Like…” ends the record on its highest note since “Bats”, with a neat little catchy up tempo beat, a fun number that’s a nice, different send-off, without losing the band’s press or vocals.
Despite the rough patches and slow-downs, Take Me To the Sea is still a high-energy ride over the shores. More melodic than Blood Brothers, more punk than Pretty Girls Make Graves, yet definitely more than the sum of its parts. Not an immediately accessible record by any means, but well worth the effort, in which Jaguar Love gives just rewards.
MP3 Stream: "Bats Over the Pacific Ocean"
– Tom Balfour