Saturday, 20 January 2018

Album Review: Long In Winters by Jake & The Jellyfish (by Emma Prew)

One of my favourite UK-based DIY folk punk bands, Jake & The Jellyfish, are back! It seems a long time since they released their last album, Dead Weight (2015), and we (Colin and I) haven’t seen the band live since Fest 15 in 2016. It turns out they were pottering away crafting a new album last year and the wait for new music is nearly over as Long In Winters is released on 26th January, by the Bristol-based label Invisible Llama Music.

As soon as I heard they had a new album coming, I begged Colin to let me be the one to review it and so when Iwan, from the label, dropped us an email with a stream of the album I was over the moon. The press release suggests that the album might be for fans of Hot Water Music, Latterman and The Menzingers. My first thought was that that doesn’t really sound like the Jake & The Jellyfish I know but it sounds like something I will like anyway. And it certainly made me all the more keen to hear what the band has in store for us on album no. three!

Kicking off the album with a blend of rhythmic acoustic guitar and pounding drums is a song titled Spokesdog. This is a loud and rowdy folk punk tune from the outset with a neat little 1, 2, 3, 4 count in before Jake’s distinct vocals make their first appearance. This certainly gets the album going in style. Spokesdog reflects on how we hear so much about how the world is a terrible place, everything is going down the drain, nothing is going to get better etcetera, etcetera, that we almost become desensitised to it – it’s hard to care anymore. I can definitely appreciate what Jake’s getting at. ‘I’ve been winding myself up anyway, You can tell that I’ve been overthinking anyway … The radio’s telling me it’s all gone wrong, The country’s fucked and the money’s all gone, It’s hard to care after a while.’  The second song on Long In Winters was released at the end of last year as the lead single from the album. The track is called Reading List and it is pure classic Jake & The Jellyfish that we know and love. Reading List begins with a slick bassline before the guitar adds another layer, with said guitar simply being melodic rather than the more in-your-face style of the opening song. There are some great whoa-ohs as soon as the first chorus comes in – which, by the way, is only after about 30 seconds. This song doesn’t hang around. The lyrics of the second verse are really great. ‘I swear looking at my phone makes me unhappy, I tried to read this book three times already, Every time you ring I think someone’s died, Phonecalls bring out my worst side.’ Reading List is about the age of procrastination, as well as often expecting the worst in life. It’s become almost normal to spend more time looking at your phone than with your head in a book, even if the latter would make you more happy. Plenty of food for thought there.

Graveyard is the third song of Long In Winters and it is the violin that stands out as the star of the show here. I was actually wondering if the band still had a violin player (having seen them without one a few times) so I’m pleased to know that they do! ‘We used to drink in the graveyard in town, We used to talk about the music we’d found…’ Graveyard is a fast paced and furious track that, rather than just whoa-ohs, has ahh-ahh-ohhs as well. I can’t do them justice in words – just listen to it as soon as you can. It makes the song sound huge anyway which is no bad thing. Jake has some fine lyricism throughout the song but the line that really stood out to me is the slightly oxymoronic ‘All this thinking can’t be good for your brain.’ Jake is a wise man. The fourth track kicks off with a fast bass part before louder – electric? – and more urgent guitars also join in. The Shakes is the first song that really shows this new Hot Water Music-influenced Jake & The Jellyfish. Like I said, I didn’t expect it from Jake & The Jellyfish but I’m pleasantly surprised that it’s so awesome. This is a heavy, headbang-inducing song about struggling with mental health problems and how those around you don’t always offer the best support. ‘You said I don’t help myself, Talking to you won’t help my mental health.’ Definitely relatable but also delivered in a powerful way.

The louder, faster and heavier Jake & The Jellyfish sound continues into Speak Now Or Forever Hold Your Peas – always nice to have a bit of humour in a song title. The song title is definitely the only place where humour is apparent with this song as it is deadly serious and fuelled by anger – in a totally good way. The anger is certainly justified as this song is an attack on mindless racists who don’t think about their actions, in particular, I imagine, Nigel Farage and UKIP. ‘It’s easy to be influential when you’re targeting the vulnerable.’ And the simple idea that you should think before you open your mouth. ‘Do you hear yourself? Do you hear yourself when you speak?’ There is an incredible amount of passion and energy that is perfect for the middle point of the album. Things calm down a little bit for the sixth song, Comics, which sees the return of the acoustic guitar… at least for the start of the song. This is a fairly straightforward and honest song which is apparent from the very first line. ‘I just want to sit and read comics…’ With so much going on in the world and in our own lives, sometimes you just want to sit and do something you love, forgetting about life’s stresses for a while – whether it be reading comics or writing folk songs. Comics has a lovely rolling motion thanks to its drumbeat, inducing a folk-country vibe. I think there’s also some accordion on this song?! I hope I’m not imagining anyway. ‘We’re all the same, In very different ways.’

Social Smoker is next up and it has a brilliant mix of pounding drums and acoustic guitar that’ll get your head nodding in no time. This is quite a classic sounding Jake & The Jellyfish song although it also reminds me of Ducking Punches, or Dan Allen solo acoustic anyway – they’d be great on tour together (again, if they’ve already toured together!). The way I interpreted the lyrics of Social Smoker is that some people are just instantly relaxed and at home when surrounded by others, like social smokers, while others find the relatively simple act of socialising more difficult. I am particularly socially awkward myself so, if that is indeed what this song is about, I can definitely relate. ‘You’re a social smoker, I’m a social waste of space.’ The highlight of this song has got to be the bridge section where Jake repeatedly sings ‘I don’t know what you want from me.’  it’s just asking for a big singalong really. The penultimate song of Long In Winters is No One Remembers Song Titles Anyway. Firstly, I’d like to point out that I am personally notoriously bad at remembering song titles, so they’re not wrong there! Regardless of the song’s name, this is a beautiful acoustic guitar and violin led track which sets a sombre and thoughtful tone.‘My TV is lying to me, About things that make you happy, Drink coke to quench your thirst, Take pills to stop the hurt.’  This is without a doubt a sad song as it is dedicated to lost loved one but it also feels like an appropriate celebration of that person. ‘This is my first Christmas without you…’ cue pounding drums, crashing guitars and a louder violin. The louder sound equals more intense emotions. You don’t have to be religious or traditional to miss someone when Christmas or family and friends gatherings happen and they are not there.

A few times when I’ve seen Jake & The Jellyfish live they have unplugged their instruments and come into the crowd to sing their final song. That song is usually the previous album’s closing track, Hypocrites, but I can definitely imagine it being replaced with this album’s closing track in future Jellyfish set lists. The closing track also happens to be the album’s title track, Long In Winters. If it was possible to sound more stripped back than the other acoustic-based songs on this album, this song has done it. It is simple but effective. Long In Winters talks of bumping into someone you haven’t seen in years and wanting to make more of an effort to stay in touch. Faces can change but underneath appearances people remain the same. Since the album title was first announced I’ve been puzzling over exactly what ‘long in winters’ might mean. Listening to the chorus, I think I sort of get it. ‘You say that I’m long in winters, But short in years, You say that I think too much, After all these years.’ The way I interpret it is being ‘long in winters but short in years’ means that you are perhaps wiser than your age might suggest but also maybe more troubled, as you overthink things. An apt end to an inspiring, thought-provoking and thoroughly enjoyable album. Bravo Jake & The Jellyfish!

Long In Winters is out next Friday and you can catch Jake & The Jellyfish live at their album release shows in Leeds and Bristol – check the band’s Facebook page for details. Word is they’ll be embarking on a full UK and Europe tour later in the year as well if you, like me, don’t live near enough to Leeds or Bristol.

You can stream Reading List on Bandcamp ahead of the album’s full release and pre-order the album now from Invisible Llama’s shop.

This album review was written by Emma Prew.

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