Instrumental bands tend to cave in and start messing around with vocals eventually. That The Samuel Jackson Five have made it to album number four before such dalliances were deemed necessary is impressive. Still, there are only three tracks where this particular concession has been made, so SJ5 don’t veer from the usual template too greatly.The usual template, for those unfamiliar with the fantastically monikered band, was sketchy to say the least. SJ5 take elements from almost any genre prefixed with “post” and cram them into curiously melodic songs.
Opening track Never Ending Now introduces itself with a wonderful chiming bell pattern underpinned with a bass that grinds purposefully wihile layers of keyboards and delicate guitar lines weave sporadically over the top. Importantly, SJ5 never forget that melody is of utmost importance. There’s never anything that could be considered padding, at the heart of all the layers and intricacies, everything they do is a finely tuned pop sensibility.The haunting piano of Radio Gagarin is wonderfully affecting. It starts life as a bad tempered stomp and works its way towards the heavens sounding like The Flaming Lips attempting a fugue as it does so. Race To The Self Destruct Button mixes math rock, metal riffing and easy listening backing vocals to create a tongue in cheek soundtrack to a grainy film of Slayer’s tour bus travelling along an Italian mountain road.
A Perennial Candidate is another part-math, part-metal beast complete with thumping middle section. The somewhat cosmopolitan layering of vocal swathes and saxophone lead the track off in another not entirely unwelcome direction. Finally, the closing duo of …And Then We Met The Locals and Low Entropy finds SJ5 at their best. The former is a sprawling math/prog rock epic with a saxophone that nods not towards to tuneful pop soul, but instead takes the on trill siren call of The JBs (as sampled by Public Enemy), ripping through the intricate guitar lines in the process. Low Entropy closes out the album with a haunting acoustic guitar workout which in itself is at odds with the frantic riffing and stylistic mash-ups that precede it.
Interspersing these instrumentals is the trio of songs that define this particular album by dint of having a vocal track. Electric Crayons could have worked as an instrumental, but rather than go down the usual “vocals as instruments” explanation that most post bands give for their sudden use of vocals, SJ5 go for it whole heartedly and wind up sounding not entirely unlike Shudder To Think at points. It may disrupt the flow somewhat, but who listens to albums in a linear fashion these days? Well, people who like post-rock and instrumentals mainly, but as the wildly sci-fi cover of this album suggests those people should get with the future and invest in a massive laser and possibly and iPod. Unlike the forceful post-punk of Electric Crayons, Ten Crept In is a daintier affair with a high pitched vocal wrapped around a school yard chant melody.
Sadly, there’s little denying that it does feel like it’s been dropped into the middle of the wrong album. Perhaps SJ5 should have grasped the prog-nettle hard and produced a double album – one disc full of instrumentals for the fans of the indulgent and another to explore new territories (possibly in a space ship armed with a laser). Only the calm droning of the first part Tremendous Silence really lets the side down, but when it segues into a ridiculous over blown pomp rock ending, it becomes somewhat fantastic. As an album this feels somewhat incoherent, but on an individual level, these songs are all lovingly crafted gems.