2013 was a landmark year for French music. Daft Punk‘s monumental comeback shook the planet, and the latest album from Phoenix incited a fevered ruckus. Coming hot off the trails of arguably France’s biggest sonic exports (at least in this modern era), Jamaica have just finished tying a ribbon around their second album, Ventura.
Though theyshare producer/audio engineer Peter Franco with Daft Punk, the robots’ work isn’t especially related to Jamaica’s. But Phoenix’s ‘yacht-rock’ and pop-embellished ’80s pomp, is. And in case you were wondering, their Jamaica moniker is irrelevant to their sound, so don’t expect any reggae rompers or dancehall ditties from the Parisian pair.
Yet while there is a definite resemblance to Phoenix (is there something in the wine?), they ensure that they’re not mere doppelgängers and strike out on their lonesome. Phoenix tend to gun for more electronic, brushed-chrome hooks and chunky pop sensibilities, whereas Jamaica’s take on the style sees them sojourning to the States in a bid to relive rock’s bemulleted heyday.
On Ventura the duo excel at charming, somewhat simple pop-rock. It’s a pretty standard rock set-up in terms of instrumentation, with a few synths smooshed in for good measure, but an astute grasp of their genre’s mechanics allows them to magick in a cache of aural pleasures. Rather than blandly/blindly chugging along with power chords, they slather axes with pedalboardery and post-production fluff.
Take Orange Juice-esque post-punk paean Same Smile, in which six-stringers shimmer, grind, twinkle, growl and arpeggiate like Beethoven’s right hand. We’re not saying they’re saving guitar music (though it’s getting awfully close to that time of year again, and no one else has…), but they are showing another side to the format that’s often underappreciated or overlooked.
They’re pop-rock connoisseurs, embodying The Strokes post-millennial gusto on Turbo (which sounds a bit like Reptilia for a while), Bryan Adams‘ summer jollies on Goodbye Friday (which recalls the original Not In Love, by Platinum Blonde), and their fellow countrymen Phoenix most notably on the synth-led Rushmore. Okay, so there’s some derivation going on, and you’ll glimpse more outfits than you can count on your fingers within the confines of Ventura, but that never becomes an issue. It’s not as if it’s so jarring as to put you off; it’s more like a subtle realisation of the connections. You can almost feel the synapse flaring; it becomes a treasure hunt as opposed to a lynch mob. They’ve created an endlessly fun patchwork quilt of sounds that, while familiar when dissected, unless you’re really analysing the record – which not a lot of you probably will – are but fleeting moments that fade into the bigger picture.
Ricky, draped in myriad hooks and an assortment of choruses, flitting between ABBA and Bowling For Soup, is the record’s absolute highlight. There’s an innate joyousness; it smacks of glee. If Jamaica get around to doing festivals this year, you can bet your bottom dollar that this will be one of those tracks that everyone goes frickin’ bananas for. It probably has the best guitar solo of 2014 so far, to boot.
This is an anthology of light, poppy tunes with a scattering of sun-kissed anthems. It’s a fabulously uplifting record too, alleviating any aches, qualms or pains you may be harbouring. Ventura is the kind of jangly record that you can whack on, unwind and have a hairbrush croon or two to. Jamaica don’t take themselves seriously, they’re not shy about parading their influences, and they’re not forcing anything on this album. It’s easygoing. They’re honest about their intentions, and the result is something that feels genuinely effortless.