Review Summary: Whether through actual science or just plain dumb luck, Jolly's first part of "The Audio Guide to Happiness" series should at the very least make you feel "loved", however different and subjective that feeling may be between different people.
Over the years, as I’ve discovered music on a much wider scale, I’ve come across bands that have gone that extra step in trying to differentiate themselves from their peers, sometimes through the nerdiest methods imaginable. Tool comes to mind, with their lyrics on song “Lateralus” arranged so that the syllables follow the Fibonacci sequence. But I can’t say I’ve ever seen a band quite like Jolly and the lengths they’ve gone to in order to provide a unique experience for listeners. In working with a university professor, the band studied and implemented binaural tones into their music, with the professor conducting studies on over 5,000 subjects in order to optimize the listening experience one gets when they listen to Jolly’s music. I can only briefly touch upon how this works at a basic level. Binaural tones are used often in meditation or hypnosis whereby two separate tones of differing frequencies play simultaneously, each tone devoted entirely to its own separate ear. When the two contrasting tones play together, it creates this unified oscillating “wob-wob-wob” sound, effectively instilling the subject with a feeling of relaxation or “happiness”. Whether Jolly’s objective is achieved when listening to their two-part concept album The Audio Guide to Happiness
is beyond me, but it remains one of the most intriguing (albeit pretentious) ways a band has ever tried to be original.
The album plays out like a cassette tape, with a woman’s voice cutting in and out every so often, narrating the experience. Her presence resembles a creepy robotic guardian, similar to the main antagonist GLaDOS in the Portal video game series. You feel both comforted and unsettled by the almost humorous blend of serenity and sternness in her tone of voice. For such a scientific concept, the music is a surprisingly easy-listening mix of post-grunge and progressive rock. Vocalist and frontman Anadale channels a lighter version of Kurt Cobain in his voice. The instrumentation resembles many modern progressive rock acts like Oceansize or Amplifier, and even at times injects a fusion of djent similar to what Australian band Twelve Foot Ninja play (see the extraordinary and ferocious song “The Pattern”).
It’s clear that Jolly desires listeners to hear both albums together as a unified whole, seen by how closer “Intermission” cuts out abruptly after instructing its subject to switch to the second disc. But the first part of the Audio Guide
series does stand on its own as an excellent demonstration of the wide spectrum of sounds progressive rock can reach. The album’s first true song “Ends Where it Starts” as well as the aforementioned “The Pattern” capture the heavier side of the band, while ending song “Dorothy’s Lament” is a haunting lullaby that builds over the course of the track into a disturbing reprise of ghostly chanting. And Jolly covers almost all points in between, with songs that mix grungy passages with softer melodic choruses as on tracks like the uplifting “Joy” or the catchy “Where Everything’s Perfect”. However, the band is strongest when they dial it down to produce some truly beautiful rock ballads. “Storytime” and “Radiae” both shine as album highlights, with Anadale delivering his best vocal performances. Both incorporate a bit of piano, which as we’ve seen with other progressive rock bands like Porcupine Tree can lift a song to enormous heights, these being no exception. The latter song “Radiae” contains a beautiful and touching passage that comes in after the first chorus’ closing line “wandering for miles”, bridging it with the second verse in stunning fashion. What’s also impressive about these tracks is that they each take from many influences and yet don’t quite sound like a carbon copy of any one. This ensures Jolly retain their own sound that is unique to them rather than tempting listener’s to switch over to that other band they are reminded of and would rather listen to.
Claims of pretentiousness aside, Jolly has crafted a fresh and exciting sophomore album that satisfies on almost all fronts, bringing a sense of adventure and enjoyment to a genre that is difficult to carve a niche in. The first part of The Audio Guide to Happiness
also ends in such a way that listeners can’t help but hunger for more, making the jump to the second part of the series that much more exciting. “Please insert Disc Two”
? You certainly don’t have to tell me twice, I’m already two steps ahead of you. Enjoy!
And always remember...Jolly does in fact love you.