More Than Just Film
I sense it approaching but it still takes my breath away. The background wash of distorted chatter and whirring electronics becomes punctuated by beats and tones, contorting and fusing under the growing momentum. There are the drums, seventy-eight thousand pounds of thrust, jerking my body and causing my limbs to flail. A rush of cymbals reminds me of something I took years ago and I smile as the music climbs and builds. The next thing I’m aware of is a warning light, I’m at the apex and I’ll soon be tumbling back to earth. For that brief moment though I’m weightless, then I’m moving faster than ever, tumbling and spinning and grinning like crazy. As the ground gets closer the drums cut and I prepare to splash down. We all experience different things when the music takes us like this. Our eyes glaze over, a sloppy grin spreads across the room and we’re transported. I was forty miles up. I saw the curvature of the earth. I saw stars.
It can render words futile, the way JayetAl’s music engages listeners and soundtracks their flights of fancy and journeys down rabbit holes. I could jabber impotently about anthemic electronica and epic soundscapes, and be sure to hunt me down like a dog if I stray onto the realms of interesting or intelligent dance music, but none of it would convey how intimate and personal the experience of listening can be. So I’ll try to keep this brief and proceed with caution. Writing about music is easy. Writing about music and not sounding like a tool…
Since releasing their début album, Where No City Lights, in January 2007, JayetAl have been slowly crafting and shaping its successor. Spending so long on a creative project can do strange things to the mind. Without sufficient faith in yourself or a steady hand, you can become lost in an unsolvable puzzle of your own making, like that guy in that film (I forget its title). What’s so striking about Life within Lost Transmissions, despite its epic gestation, is how assured and focused every track sounds.
The silence is broken by 7 Up. Rhythm patterns suggest themselves, fracture and reform whilst a delicate melody is slowly shaped. Then the guitar and drums hit like a twister, picking me up and flinging me into the distance. I briefly hear acoustic guitars over the rushing air but then the huge pop hook has me spinning and twisting down through clouds. Before I can catch my breath and say ‘again’ we’re onto track two, setting the tone for an album leaner and punchier than its predecessor.
Life Within Lost Transmissions‘ biggest thrills come from its surprises. One of the most striking moments arrives halfway through Down we go when the vocals kick in. In a heavily processed combination of both James’s and Al’s voices we hear, ‘Down and down and down we go, no balance to our cyclic flow’, a reference to the economy or the environment perhaps? On the rare occasions voices appear on JayetAl tracks, in the form of samples or vocals, they often brim with indignation.
The wow factor is highest on The light hits us all, the only track on the album to stretch out and go beyond the six minute mark, as it builds from a single violin to a lush arrangement of strings, woodwind and brass. When the drums are introduced, so often a key moment in a JayetAl track, they slow everything down until it gradually morphs into a Bond theme playing through an amniotic goo filter. It glides, it swaggers, it occasionally threatens to collapse under the weight of its ideas but part of the pleasure is marvelling at how the precision engineering holds everything together.
Whilst much of JayetAl’s music offers cinematic escapism, The light hits us all feels like it was recorded in Super Panavision (can the title be a reference to a film projector?) as its sound and ambition stretches from horizon to horizon. It calls to mind JayetAl’s stunning soundtrack to Chris Marker’s time-travel classic La jetée, released last year, which allowed the band to work with a wider range of instruments than their live set up. A single thirty minute piece, it led us on a journey from the harrowing aftermath of World War Three to the life cycle of a brief but profound love affair. The light hits us all displays a similar range of styles and scales, switching between austere and grandiose to woozy and intimate.
I get the impression that the making of Life within Lost Transmissions involved an on-going negotiation between the band’s celebrated live sound and show-casing what they can do in their bunker studio. The tracks which tend to work best live are, generally speaking, the ones driven by the guitars and drums – as opposed the layers of synths or sampled instruments on their backing track. Whilst their recorded versions are beautifully produced and allow us to relish those finer details which can be lost in a live mix, they often struggle to match their live intensity. EarPhoneFire becomes a bit too cluttered for the bursts of machine gun drumming to have the kind of impact that they have on stage, whilst the Clark influenced Damiano 1000 Drums crackles with energy and menace but doesn’t quite reach the heights which makes it a live favourite.
It would be wrong though to see this as a failing. JayetAl abandoned a studio session in which they recorded the album as live having realised that they wanted more from their recordings. What they’ve achieved over the course of making this album is the ability to tap into their live sound without becoming slaves to merely replicating it. This is most evident when we approach the album’s conclusion.
When posted on-line a year ago,Springboxitude and Hard Pattern represented yet another leap forward for the band. Following a sparse, discordant introduction, Hard Pattern delivers a melody so gorgeous that it makes you want to laugh, cry, hug random strangers and throw shapes like your limbs are on fire. From its organ intro, Springboxitude builds at a measured pace until the final 16 bars deliver a fuzzed-up onslaught of oomph which melds together the immediacy of the live sound and the measured approach of the studio.
After such abundance, Comer la Hoja arrives like a rich dessert when a wafer thin mint and a coffee would have done. I really couldn’t, I’m full to the brim, oh go on then. It’s utterly delicious and quintessentially JayetAl but it leaves me fit to burst and in need of a cat nap. Is it bad form to criticise an album for having too much good music?
Life within Lost Transmissions offers a listening experience which leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy inside. Its high-points suggest a band in transition, writing and recording in new ways, expanding in different directions and racking up victories on new fronts. It’s not quite the perfect JayetAl album but if they continue to improve at this rate that can’t be too far away now (my money is on a 2019 release). For the definitive answer of how good the album is though, you’ll need to discover for yourself. The few pounds it will cost you represents a remarkable bargain for 52 minutes of remarkable music to be transported by.