Review Summary: The rarity of a debut LP adding to an already superlative discography.
It is often interesting - and telling - to view the manner in which a band will begin their career. Some will jump head-first into their debut LP, while others would much prefer to toil away with demos, EPs and splits to ensure they are confident in their own identity and sound. Considering that The Jezabels released three EPs over the span of twenty months, it would appear that the Australian quartet fall into the latter category. However, the truth is that they were more than ready to advance after their enthralling debut 'The Man Is Dead'. Obviously perfectionists, The Jezabels continued to mature and hone their craft, with the comparitively sparser arrangements of their early indie-pop leaning highlights giving way to a fuller, more atmospheric sound come EP number three 'Dead Storm'. It should therefore come as no surprise that the long-awaited debut LP 'Prisoner' is far from a rehashed, formula-adhering release. While others could not have resisted in re-recording at least one EP standout, The Jezabels have ambitiously and assuredly moved on, resulting in the rarity of a debut LP adding to an already superlative discography.
"No more will I look around and wonder how it all began" croons lead vocalist Hayley Mary on the stunning 'City Girl', and from the moment the gothic organs kick-start the opening title track, you just know that The Jezabels are going to do anything but play it safe. Confirming that they will use the long-play format to fully explore the boundaries of their sound, an eye-opening crescendo of a throbbing synth pulse then propels the cut to its climax, before memorable lead single 'Endless Summer' proves that the outfit have far from abandoned their catchy melodicism. While it is ultimately inferior to the opening duo, six minute successor 'Long Highway' may in fact be the tune which sets the tone for 'Prisoner', with its sweeping, cinematic feel evident throughout the album. In order to assist this smooth unification of cohesion and progression, The Jezabels have not only retained producer Lachlan Mitchell, but also procured the services of American mixer/producer Peter Katis, whose work with the likes of The National, Interpol, Jonsi & The Swell Season is a perfect fit.
Virgin listeners will undoubtedly be drawn to the distinctive voice of Mary, who does not disappoint as she fully explores the breadth of her phenomenal vocal range. Often recalling Kate Bush and Tori Amos, the title track even has her evoking Placebo's Brian Molko, while the seamless transitions of her upper register to a lower tone on 'Horsehead' brings to mind The Cranberries' Dolores O'Riordan. Mary's most remarkable display though, comes on the strings-infused 'City Girls', whose chorus is simply chill-inducing. Over-emphasizing the role of the front-woman, however, would be down-playing the groups remaining three members, all of whom appear to be working double-time to compose near flawless music. Without a bass player, drummer Nik Kaloper continuously lays sturdy foundations, while additionally decorating the band's sound with energetic beats and fills. Keys player Heather Shannon also subtly assists in the rhythm department, while simultaneously laying down a number of beautiful melodies. Finally, the likes of 'Trycolour' and 'Catch Me' sees guitarist Sam Lockwood perform some glorious guitar lines that recall early U2, and are complemented by a fuzzier, distorted sound when required.
As with any outfit extending themselves in ambitious fashion, The Jezabels do occasionally over-step the mark. The quality of the lyrics is a little erratic, as Mary's affinity with strange metaphors and weird topics miss the mark as much as they hit. Furthermore, the lack of multiple immediate standouts may not only hurt the commercial appeal of 'Prisoner', but could also disappoint fans who were used to the band's releases containing no filler whatsoever. The album's latter half in particular seems preoccupied with enhancing diversity, as centerpiece 'Nobody Nowhere', three minute instrumental 'Austerlitz', and the hauntingly somber piano & synth ballad 'Peace of Mind' are all certain to prove divisive. Ultimately though, 'Prisoner' is unquestionably a captivating LP where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, since the cohesive nature of its songwriting is clearly intended to suit a beginning-to-end listening experience and enhance longevity.
Amongst the critical plaudits, burgeoning fanbase and outright quality of their body of work thus far, one extraordinary fact surrounding The Jezabels is that all four of their recordings have been independently released. As 'City Girl' advocates "Someone will hand you a sweet proposition one day", and it's difficult to believe that the same will not be the case for this talented collective soon enough. Likened to everyone from Arcade Fire to Kate Bush, and from The National to PJ Harvey, such varied comparisons suggest that The Jezabels are not only difficult to pigeon-hole, but are very much their own band with their own sound. At different stages, the cinematic nature of 'Prisoner' conjures up visions of long road trips, sprawling coastlines and the desolate outback. To quote another lyric from 'City Girl': "And saying goodbye to the sweet simple life that you knew", one gets the feeling that The Jezabels are yet to reach their desired destination and, promisingly, there is still a realistic sense of room for improvement apparent within their craft. It's an exciting notion that The Jezabels are just getting started and you can't help but feel that the sky is indeed their only limit.
Recommended Tracks: Endless Summer, City Girl, Horsehead, Deep Wide Ocean & Prisoner.