Well, It could be worse.
So Modest Mouse cancels Northside a week before the party begins, and we are all wondering who the festival gods are going to nab as a replacement. Obviously when a headliner disappears into a cloud of smoke after every single ticket has been sold, there is going to be scrutiny, debate, and sheer panic in their board room. A last minute mid-level indie rock band that hasn’t got a festival date on a Saturday in the middle of June? So we get Jagwar Ma. At least it’s not Veto I guess.
Jagwar Ma are from Australia. One of the most isolated countries in the world, yet they look like us, drink beer, speak English (emphasis on the ish) and have a low gun crime rate. Good for them. They also eat anything that moves, have thehighest skin cancer rate in the world, and gave us the Bee Gees and AC/DC. Their music scene has never been known to be that cutting edge, but hey- who’s got time to make groundbreaking music when it’s a million degrees and every single living thing on the continent is designed to kill you?
Their new, debut album is called “Howlin’”, and it’s quite a confusing affair. Their lead off single “Man I Need”, released a few months back, showed some promise (and bad English), and was a cute retro romp, fusing 80’s style “Madchester” Baggy dance music with a kind of 60’s melody. It was pure guff, a little fun, and maybe something to get the kids going in a club. The album though, is a little hard to come to grips with, as it is a jumbled mess of genres, cheezy cut and paste beats, and no grand scheme to build any kind of dynamic. At least I saw a really hot girl once with a Veto shirt on last year; it almost made me like them. I am really gonna miss Modest Mouse now.
“Howlin” starts off with some more baggy and supposedly danceable stuff that I’ve already forgotten about after hearing it a few minutes ago. “The Throw” is an obvious choice for a next ‘single’, however, it’s more of the same as “Man I need”, with 90’s Manchester looming over Beck’s “Odelay” like a dirty pervert at a playground. The track has now been cleverly re-named “throwback” in my mind, and just like a dirty pervert, I do not want this in my ear anymore. With a pattern now set three tracks in of starting a piece off with a beat or a riff, then gradually layering more and more shit at it until there is no more gallop in the horse to beat out of it in the last furlong, the songs do not have any build or designs to take the listener anywhere else except the next one. Several more tracks come at you- “that loneliness” (another kind of mid-period beck meets The Soup Dragons debacle), and “Come Save Me” all still have the same approach of throwing everything they have at it, but yet, nothing really happening. Clocking in at over 6 minutes, the middle track “Four” (even their song titles sound incomplete!) is just an attempt at a drugged out trance track with fragmented vocals (imagine if Kid A were made by Kangaroos with a MacBook) that takes too long to build at all. It’s just wack, and it sounds like a car advert. Maybe Jaguar. Maybe Skoda. There are more songs coming at you after this ‘palette cleanser’, “Let her Go”, and the aforementioned “Man I need”, and while “Let her Go” has some promise as a happier and melodic stab, I’m ready to call it quits. They have a 45 minute set to fill.
I’m more curious to see how they pull it off live with two guys in the band apparently. I’m thinking..Macbooks and drum pads? And all this during the middle of Saturday afternoon (it’s calling for rain of course) and I’m considering burying a six pack in the woods by the river so I can go back, dig it up, and see if I can drink them all until a different band comes on. Oh, and their fellow country- men, Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds will be probably arriving at this point on a big tour bus to check in and get ready, so maybe hanging around the fence will be the best chance to catch an Australian band worth seeing Saturday afternoon.
So – Modest Mouse, I still love you, even though you cancelled to record your next album that’s taken like seven years to make, but did you know that we have Jagwar Ma instead? If I had kids, I would NOT hire an Aussie baby sitter to mind them. I just wouldn’t…think about the children Modest Mouse..THINK ABOUT US!!!
Jagwar Ma performs 16.00 at Red stage, somewhere inside Northside this Saturday. I’ll be in the woods, digging and drinking.