In case you haven’t guessed yet, even after reading the name of the group and having a peek on the artwork (an inverted stock photo of the American flag), Happy Jawbone Family Band are not to be taken too seriously. Or are they?
Hailing from Vermont, the band’s first full release for Mexican Summer (if you exclude their Tastes The Broom compilation) is a self-titled affair. After years of home recordings that went straight to cassette tape, it’s a much cleaner effort; the end product of having access to proper recording facilities. A cursory first listen would tempt one to write them off as yet another (pardon the pun) happy-go-lucky indie troupe who aren’t too focused on the details. Those thoughts wouldn’t be ill-judged entirely but Happy Jawbone Family Band, despite initial impressions, aren’t doing a half-assed job. Their songs sport a surprising amount of craft.
The breezy I Have To Speak With Rocky Balboa, sonically speaking, is like a botch job; relaxed guitars and a rhythm that feels like it could break at any given moment. Yet there is a charm to its ramshackle feel, even if it does slow down to a crawl towards the end. On the other side of the coin, the upbeat and jangly D-R-E-A-M-I-N’ is more preoccupied with the idea of just floating through life and ignoring the daily routine, even when its central hook is jubilant. These two sides of their personality are well managed throughout.
The album satisfies on repeat listens as more textures that seemed hidden the first time around reveal themselves. I’ll Never Go Skin Deep Again begins with, of all things, a zither. After the initial surprise, it settles into a nicely thudding rhythm. It drones on for three minutes before a duel emerges between controlled and frenetic guitars before winding down for a freewheeling, pastoral outro that MGMT would be proud of. Elsewhere, if there is a solution to the anguish that’s presented in Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid, it won’t be found here amidst the slurred and apathetic vocals; buried underneath is a wonderfully drowsy melody.
Without the restrictions that beset them before, Happy Jawbone Family Band have stepped up in the best possible manner – by making everything more dense and fuller of sound, yet without losing their DIY charm. Most of the songs are remarkably well thought out, and the contrast between its quickfire and expansive moments aren’t jarring in any way. Most of all, it sounds like a bunch of people enjoying what they do. And why shouldn’t they? With a name like Happy Jawbone Family Band, they’re unlikely to put a downer on your day.