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The Joggers - Solid Guild

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Artist: The Joggers

Album: Solid Guild

Label: Star Time

Review date: Nov. 12, 2003

Over the last two years, as NYC’s indie became hotter than all get out (and a bit crowded too), the Star Time label has lifted itself up above the flashy rabblemob, quietly but assuredly becoming the most respected family on the block. Four Star Time hatchlings put out debut albums that were at once of and above the moment, and some of the wave’s best music can be found among them. The French Kicks, the Walkmen, the Natural History, and Canadian imports Hot Hot Heat – each got off to a thrilling start in their own relatively divergent directions, taking the near-ubiquitous post-punk reference base and gifting it with melodious songcraft. This was a label with something better and rarer than style: taste. (So what if this boy’s club admitted Northern State, too—everyone makes mistakes.)

It’s a bit surreal to hear the new debut by The Joggers, as if the label extracted some juice from each of their premier bands, mixed it all together in a basement laboratory, using pedals and tongs and old beaker bongs converted back into beakers, and – poof – out came Solid Guild. It would seem like another unhealthy indicator of a congealing scene spitting out carbon copies instead of ideas, but the band’s from cross-coast Portland, Oregon. Instead, chalk it up to fortuity, or the canny ear of a label scout, or a strange alignment of rock constellations that allowed all those common influences to be independently received, descrambled and articulated with striking semblance. Solid Guild reveals connections and shared identities that were up till now only vaguely suggested between all the other Star Time bands.

It’s the tightly interwoven guitar chimes – the Walkmen chime like churchbells, toyboxes, and other faded memories; the French Kicks chime like the sounds of beachfront traffic late on Saturday afternoon; the Natural History chime like the distant alarm bells of a burglarized building; Hot Hot Heat chime like the frenzied sweaty pulses of a packed nightclub. It’s the singing, gruff and slurry, far from tuneful but endearing: at times with the lazy charm of the Kicks’ Nick Stumpf, more often with the garage-cum-lounge flair of the Walkmen’s Walter Martin or the stressed urgency of History’s Max Tepper, and occasionally with the sassy yelp of Hot Hot Heat’s Steve Bays.

The Joggers sound a little like all of this, and if they never quite add up to something as fully formed and satisfying as any of their brethren, neither do they sound like an ape show. Compared to the anally neat sounds of the others, this is a messy band. The guitars, considerably more skillful than their said labelmates, cut sharp angles and strain against the tricky song structures. The rhythm section is at times a little unhinged, and the propulsive chimes fall subtly in and out of tempo and key.

The melodies, however, which are quite sweet if not quite smooth, give the mess some deceptive, charming guile. It’s not quite sing-along material; even humming is in doubt. It’s mostly not danceable. (The exception being “Neon Undercarriage,” a thrilling example of the not-uncommon overlap between the Star Time sensibility and the Strokes’ surefire easybake formula.) However, the Joggers are certainly not afraid to rock out, in ways that are limited by their brother bands’ carefully constructed aesthetics.

And on a couple moments, the blurry features sharpen into something vivid and enticing. “Blurred Digits” spends its opening third just revving an engine, then peels away frantically, letting the melody catch up a good minute later, and finally comes together wonderfully only to hit the brakes the very next moment. The band’s standout song, “Back to the Future” also contains their surprise trick – the guitars and bass chug along nonchalantly before suddenly falling away, allowing the song’s clipped melody to blossom into a cascading four part harmony finale. It’s enough to make any cross-armed sloucher snort at the idea of a-cappella indie rock, and immediately thereafter blush at how sweet it is.

Whereas the other Star Time bands beg to be mixtaped and handed out to younger brothers, girlfriends and eager newbies, the Joggers would probably be a poor choice for someone unfamiliar with this neighborhood of the post-punk gentrification project. But for those who have been smitten with Star Time’s new sense of old fashions, Solid Guild is an interesting, even awesome tweak. And if Star Time knows what’s good for them, it will give this runt of the litter plenty of TLC.

By Greg Bloom

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