We’ve been a little unkind to Immaculate Machine in the past,labelling High On Jackson Hill’s predecessor, Fables, with the mostdismissive of terms in a reviewer’s vocabulary: beige. As a band thatspecialise in pouring on the sunny charm, it is no doubt their fate tobe considered the soggy lettuce in the hamburger of life by some.Going by track titles like I Only Love You For Your Car alone, this,their fifth album, promises to be a whole lot edgier than previousefforts.
Is it? Well, yeah, sort of. Kinda. Maybe. If you asked ImmaculateMachine themselves, you’d probably get the shuffling of shy andembarrassed indie feet in response. It is certain, at least, that thesound of the band has changed somewhat, though this is due topersonnel issues.
Keyboardist and singer Kathryn Calder has taken onadditional commitments with uncle A.C. Newman‘s band the NewPornographers, while drummer Luke Kozlowski has been replaced byAden Collinge. Caitlin Gallupe and Jordan Minkoff also joined the band.Other than a having a slightly longer roll-call at band meetings, thishas also meant that singer and guitarist Brooke Gallupe has taken on adefinite role as the band’s lead singer.
Which presents, in a tricky sort of way, a problem. You see,Calder, who sounds like a sweeter Jenny Lewis, is the real drawhere. With the New Pornographers, she tends to fill in for anabsentee Neko Case, which is unlucky for both bands, becauseCalder, too, should soon be pursuing a profitable solo career. Case inpoint is You Destroyer, where Calder takes lead vocals for a wistful,country-esque shakedown on a destructive relationship. It’s thehighlight of High On Jackson Hill.
This doesn’t mean that Brooke Gallupe is necessarily unwelcome, inthe same way that Einar �rn Benediktsson‘s mad rantings inThe Sugarcubes were, for example. It’s more that his drawl is alittle thinner and slightly less appealing than the textured vocalsthat Calder provides. On first listen, you’ll find yourself enjoyingthe almost-kitsch pop of He’s A Biter, for instance, but wonderingwhen next Calder will pop her head up and take the lead.
Disappointingly, while she has a prominent part in And It Was, shedoesn’t lead another song on the album. This is a shame, but itshouldn’t rule High On Jackson Hill out of consideration. TheGallupe-lead tracks are still well-constructed, and his vocal deliveryis engaging. The album as a whole is what you could refer to as agrower, gaining in merit with each listen, as the cute hooks of I OnlyLove You For Your Car and grungy guitar of Thank Me Later sink deeperinto the psyche.
So, while you couldn’t call this effort beige, it is still clear tosee that it is lacking the necessary punch to make it a classic.Apart, Gallupe or, more likely, Calder are probably well capable ofcreating something much more enduring. High On Jackson Hill, however,is a bit like the average summer day: sweet, warm, and eventuallyforgotten.