What We Must

Martial drumming, huge, pulsating waves of melody and brazen disregard for your eardrums. Yes, Jaga are now a post-rock outfit.

By Ed Chamberlin

What’s in a name? In music, it can be quite an issue apparently, with Blur having to change their name from the appalling Seymour at the insistence of Food Records in 1989, Aphex Twin releasing material under a bewildering array of guises, Manitoba being forced to refer to himself as Caribou after handsome Dick Manitoba took issue with the similarity (not that the province of Canada seemed that bothered) and Godspeed You Black Emperor! feeling the need to change to Godspeed You! Black Emperor (po-mo bollocks frankly). It seems that getting ahead in the music industry is as much about the name you choose as the music you make.

Musical reasons are the catalyst of the latest musical visit to the deed-poll office, as Norwegian 10-piece Jaga Jazzist drop the Jazzist to become a simple Jaga (taking the meaning of their name from ‘hunted jazzman’ to simply ‘hunted’). After three albums (not including collaborations and some lengthy EPs) of crunchy, funky electro-tinged jazz, they have pushed their sound into an entirely different area.

While this kind of hefty upheaval of a band’s sound can be successful (see the aforementioned Manitoba) there is the danger not only of alienating existing fans but also of moving into a musical realm that, well, they can’t pull off effectively. With What We Must Jaga are unlikely to alienate fans – the instrumentation is as tight as ever, and Lars Hornveth’s arrangements are just as breathtaking – but something is missing from the album that made A Livingroom Hush and The Stix such a delicious diversion.

Not that you would know it at first as the band accommodate their new sound with consummate ease with All I Know Is Tonight, a track easily the equal of any you can name, its martial drumming, huge, pulsating waves of melody and brazen disregard for your eardrums. Yes, Jaga are now a post-rock outfit, but rather than finding themselves mired in some of the self-imposed restrictions of Mogwai, tune-dodging angularity of slint or wispy ambience of Sigur Rós, the band are aiming their music straight at the listener. The closest relative would be Godspeed! Y!ou! Bla!ck E!m!p!er!or!, but while Godspeed avoid giving the impression of virtuosity, the members of Jaga are clearly musicians in the old-fashioned sense of the term. Jesus, they can probably read sheet music and everything.

Stardust Hotel, sounding like an outtake from Can’s Future Days album (especially the searching guitar lines) is also impressive. However, the album gradually continues diluting their palette of ideas until the listener is left with the wimpy I Have A Ghost, Now What? which sounds like a preset demo tune from an old Casio keyboard. The one exception is the thunderous climax of Swedenborgske Rom, which takes one of the most over used clichés in modern alternative rock (just playing really really fucking loud) and makes it something close to religious.

So, good and bad on this album, but mainly pretty impressive, so why the disappointment? A band is just as entitled, encouraged in fact, to explore different styles as any writer, filmmaker or artist, but here it is not that something has gone stale with Jaga, more that something crucial is missing: the excitement. While moments here are truly heart-pounding, they do seem loyally taken from the film soundtrack here’s-the-climax book of songwriting, whereas you really got the impression that Jaga Jazzist were honestly playing on the seat of their pants, ready to careen off the road at any second. they sound a mite too comfortable here to elicit any more than an impressed nod from most listeners familiar with similar music and, being that kind of boy, I think I would have preferred more of the buzzing electronic machinery that inhabited their previous releases.
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