Review Summary: A dynamic and diverse album that requires nothing less than your immediate and undivided attention.
Picture yourself cliff-diving into the ocean - its colors of emerald, jade, and opal swirl as you splash in, complementing the illuminating coral that engulfs you as you sink to the bottom. Clownfish and tangs reflect off the sun's rays and shimmer with an iridescent glow that could not possibly be seen elsewhere. As you glance around the reef, it's as if Mother Nature splashed her canvas with such remarkable precision that you stop and marvel at its splendor. This would be underwater paradise, and while it beckons you to stay, you realize that you don't have gills.
There have been few records this year that have captured the imagination with as much fervor as Jubala's self-titled debut release, set to drop later this month. The Californian quintet's music is unabashedly soulful, with heart-on-one's-sleeve lyricism that's astutely supported by atmospheric, melodic instrumentation. The effect-laden guitars carry an almost post-rock ambiance when not delivering thick, crunching riffs. The keyboards play a significant role in the album's aura as well, and the bass underneath supports the other instruments with an undeniably warm, mellifluous tone. Jubala's record is intricately designed, but never over-the-top in composition or delivery, and their aural landscapes and sonic ambiance suck you in not unlike when scuba diver stays fixated on the ocean's underwater beauty before decompression sickness sets in.
Let's address something right from the onset: this record is not for those who only need music for white noise in the background. Jubala
is a dynamic and diverse album that requires nothing less than your immediate and undivided attention. There is a lot of music on the record; without question, listeners will hear something new or innovative with each subsequent listen. Stated differently, there is no possible way one can reasonably digest this album on one listen alone. How many songs this year start off moderately, with only bass and vocals, before giving way to a keyboard interlude that seamlessly segues into a saxophone solo that sounds like it was taken right out of a 1930s Chicago club? The track (aptly titled "On Stage") does not stop there - the saxophone break turns into a funky, guitar-driven passage that serves as an absolute album highlight. Jubala
features literally hundreds of these ambitious, expertly-crafted passages. This review would continue paragraph upon paragraph highlighting all of them; thus, the onus is on you, the listener, to seek them out yourself. As was previously written: there is a lot of music on this record, and Jubala
requires you to sit down in uninterrupted silence to hear everything that this record has to offer. If any record warrants you to set aside time out of your day to spend listening to it, Jubala
is that record.
Bookended by "On" and "Off" - whose purpose is to establish the album's tone (in the case of "On") or remind the listener of what he/she has just heard via a sonic cool-down (as is the case with "Off") - Jubala
truly starts with the mesmerizing "Welcome to the Fall." Graceful bass and steady drumming juxtapose pulchritudinous guitars, whose celestial effects help elevate the soaring vocals. "Welcome to the Fall's" lyricism can be viewed as sarcastic ("The youth are fending off starvation / An eighty hour week and they'll get by / You think they care about their exploitation when a year ago they struggled to survive? / . . . The CEOs assess the situation: they'll cut a thousand more just to stay alive") or abrasive ("Careless schemes, useless wars, is this the dream our fathers died for? / Somehow, I don't think so / . . . It's survival of the fittest here / The third world is the new frontier"), but the sardonic lyricism can easily be perceived as being cognizant of political issues affecting today's world - such social commentary has lost steam over the past couple years, for whatever reason - and makes for a refreshing listen. The ascending vocals in the track's chorus are further elevated by high-end guitar work, slick solos, and a crunching main riff.
All those elements combine to create one killer track, but Jubala
features multiple killer tracks. From the aforementioned "On Stage" (where the band depicts how cathartic playing a live show can be, as evidenced by lyrical passages such as "Up on the stage, all my worries are miles away - it's like night and day - all I gotta do is let the music come and take me away" complemented by a crisp, funky guitar progression) to the epic "Climber" to the hard-rocking "Far Away," each track exhibits its own unmistakable identity. The 6:00+ "Climber" is highlighted by stellar, engaging guitar work, but is driven even more by a powerful metaphor; in it, Jubala compares life as a mountain, and even when the conditions are tough ("Night falls, full moon on the rise, I can’t see in front of me / The wind is filled with ice / I stumble onto stone and hang on by a thread with miles below me / The worst is still ahead"), you have to finish what you start ("Don't look down, don't turn back, keep your eyes ahead / Take this journey to the end"). Continuing the metaphor even further, however, Jubala reminds us to "Check your pride / You'll make this climb again," as life is a series of labors that ultimately come down to how much courage and heart you have. In the case of the song's climber, whose "hands like ice, legs like boulders" give him momentary weakness, "[his] heart maintains [him]" and "keeps [him] going as it grows colder" as he ascends the mountain to its apex. While special attention has been drawn to the lyricism and metaphors in "Climber," the track is arguably one of the best instrumental pieces on the record, with spectacular percussion, precipitant keys, and rumbling bass.
Three more tracks that deserve mention are the previously-referenced "Far Away" (whose hammer-on/pull-off guitarwork is immensely catchy, as are the simple back-up vocals throughout the verses), the elegiac, keyboard-driven "Aftermath," and the to-and-fro "Spiritual Warrior," whose demeanor changes multiple times throughout.
If any criticisms are to be levied against Jubala
, it's not that there's too much going on - the record is far from a daedalian listening experience - but that the mixing makes it hard to hear everything clearly. Oftentimes, such as in "Dear Father" or "Shades of Gray," the low-end toms are pushed too far down in the mix, but it's evident that they were integral fills to the song. Other times, the main riffs don't take precedence over the effect-laden guitars, which causes songs to sound incomplete or lacking an assertive drive that's clearly defined on other tracks. Admittedly, this can be forgiven for the simple fact that the band produced this record themselves along with compatriot and aspiring producer Ben Reed. By their own admission, they "are not professionals," so any inconsistencies throughout the record may be looked past. Production aside, there are few musical faults on the record, although transition numbers such as "Entrata" or "What Is?" do little to prove that they are anything but time-fillers to mark shifts in between the album's stronger songs.
Jubala's self-titled debut record is not for the attention-deprived or for the listener who plays music for white noise in the background. Jubala
is a dynamic and diverse record that absolutely demands your undivided attention: there are hundreds of highlights found on the record, but the onus is on you to find time to sit with headphones or a speaker system and listen to the stripped-down, soulful, and melodic music that Jubala performs on this record. There is so much beauty to be heard on this record, that it must absolutely be sought out and heard for yourself. Tracks like the socially-cognizant "Welcome to the Fall," the epic "Climber" and its extended metaphor, and the emotional outpouring heard on "On Stage" are all amazing cuts, with many other tracks - namely "This High," "Aftermath," and "Far Away" (especially its piano feature, which is absolutely awesome) - forging their own individualities on the album. Jubala
is not a life-changing record, but it should most certainly crack at least one person's Top Ten List for 2008. If 2008 has left you feeling underwhelmed or dehydrated in the alternative or progressive genres, let Jubala's debut quench your thirst for something innovative.
Welcome to the Fall