Spooning members of high-profile bands into a musical blender doesn't always yield appealing results. Just ask Velvet Revolver or Audioslave. But sometimes, in rare instances when the ingredients combine well, it works. What do you get when you mix two parts Blood Brothers and one part Pretty Girls Make Graves? A combination with more than a few lumps yet still savory and worthy of attention. The Brothers Johnny Whitney and Cody Votolato join Pretty Girl J Clark to hammer out quirky, uncompromising jams.
Forsaking the gonzo punk drive of the Brothers, Jaguar Love adopt a more kaleidoscope approach. That isn’t to say they’ve mellowed with age or tempered their former chaos with traditional pop song structures. The musical variety found on their debut is welcome. They dabble in funk, prog rock, dance and more baroque sound experimentations. The band are not afraid to embrace unbridled explorations into aural no man’s land.
But however you choose to cut the deck, Jaguar Love still have Whitney on the mic. Seldom has there been a more starkly polarizing voice striding the screamo/punk/hardcore/indie landscape. Some may have thought/hoped he’d grown out of that high-pitched window-shattering wail, yet Whitney continues to sound like an eight-year-old girl throwing a tantrum. It’s impressive how the man hits ridiculous high notes with tinnitus-causing glee. Yet one can only wonder if the singer would be better served by learning to harness such pipes for the greater good, i.e., melodic singing instead of nails-across-blackboard bloodcurdling screeching. He pushes himself in several spots, using a sexed-up Prince-like whinny, which might be a step in a more accessible direction.
It’s unfortunate that some will not look past the vox since the music of the Jaguars is a vibrant and sometimes thrilling exercise. Clark is a skilled drummer while Votolato’s riffs are better than ever. “Jaguar Pirates” may as well be their theme song as it represents all that is right and good with this band. The main riff sticks glued in your head like the memory of a car crash scene. Whitney tends to follow the guitar melody, which only accentuates a terrific song. The keyboard-drenched denouement is rather misguided but does not derail the tune.
On “Georgia,” the band troll their parents' record collection in search of ancient, magic music once heard on something called AM radio. Whitney lays down soulful Al Green vocals over Blonde on Blonde-like rock, complete with rolling keyboards. Debut single “Highways of Gold” serves as an appropriate introduction to the band: melodic and aggressive, frantic and funky.
However, Jaguar Love have their weaknesses. “Humans Evolve” is an `80s rock Michael Jackson-wannabe mess. “Bone Trees and a Broken Heart” displays kick-ass soaring backing vocals buried in the mix but features an upfront half-baked sea chanty-like song. They show promise but feel rushed and incomplete. It’s as if the band has the tools but doesn’t know how to use them.
Jaguar Love show tremendous fortitude in the face of massive music biz antagonism. While there is a generation of so-called musicians playing it safe in their Fuse TV and Warped Tour-ready bands, Jaguar Love represent a small contingent willing to risk their necks on the chopping block of artistic freedom. Courage still counts for something, Jaguars or otherwise.