Jena Berlin - Passion Waits as the Program Keeps Going (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Jena Berlin

Passion Waits as the Program Keeps Going (2005)

Watch the City Burn

The instant Jena Berlin frontman Jon gravelly snarls "if there was motive it's lost by now" at the beginning of Passion Waits as the Program Keeps Going, every listener will immediately say to themselves, very sincerely, "awesome, the Hot Water Music sound resurgence continues" (shit, they even have a song on an earlier demo called "Rooftops!"). What they won't realize is that Jena Berlin have a few tricks up their plaid sleeves that all the Lock and Keys, Lattermans, and New Bruiseses (all solid bands, mind you) don't.

The chief ingredient the band adds are serious influences from Fugazi and that band's eventual follower, Bear vs. Shark. Discordant rhythms and strange time signature jumps, like in opener "I Should Have a Partner," will remind this same listener of Dischord days of yore. But then, like BvS vocalist/cheerleader Marc Paffi, Jon Loudon can also produce lighter, beautiful, emotive and almost faux-British shades from his voice, as in "Truth About Liars" and "Aiming for August." These two bands help shape Jena Berlin's otherwise straight-forward emo/punk hybrid into something much more palatable. Dramatic mood shifts occur throughout, guitars switching from distortion overdrive to crawling octaves ("Looking Over the Wall"), with Loudon reflecting it in his vocals.

But those roughly sung, pretty moments spoken of? They're only there to contrast intense bursts of screaming that fit the music really, really well, but especially in "Nothing Personal, Just Business;" here there's bouncily screeching instruments and Loudon's damaged vocal chords driving the verses with an indecipherable yet catchy chorus; and then flourishes of piano and more singing at the bridge? How is this working? More importantly, how is it sounding so good? All this aggression is definitely post-hardcore with an emphasis on the 'hardcore,' yet with swiftly executed indie pop/rock moments sandwiched in.

And while it's never quite again dynamic as it is in "Business," the band keeps this up for just about every one of the 9 songs on Passion Waits as the Program Keeps Going. This is an album that assuredly came out of nowhere for me, but reminded me of some great bands all the while creating an enjoyable, creative sound. Jena Berlin made one of the recent This Is Indie Rock compilations, and they're proving that maybe I need to pay a little more attention to them if any of the other bands sound this accomplished. Hell of a debut, and luckily, the followup is seemingly right around the corner.

Looking Over the Wall

I Should Have Been a Painter