Music Reviews
Gist Is

Adult Jazz Gist Is

(Spare Thought) Buy it from Insound Rating - 8/10

It’s with what sounds akin to a preadolescent choirboy vocal that the artfully complex rock quartet Adult Jazz introduces its debut album, Gist Is.  With Hum, his vocal lathered in autotune, (used here effectively at least, but shrill as always), vocalist Harry Burgess singeth in ye olde tongues about being wounded by five-oh or healed by the preacher man.  Above a gentle blanket of organ his delicate falsetto is eventually anchored by a buzzing synthesizer, each key following his every syllable.  Percussion weighs in and then lo and behold:  There’s brass.  While Adult Jazz act with patience, willing to bask in the slow and steady swell of those initial four or so minutes of the first track, they also waste no time laying it on and laying it thick, adding up those accents and shifting those rhythms, hooks in absentia as pop melodies are X-Acto’d into abstract segments that add up to…  well, sort of a Good Vibrations for the Dirty Projectors set. 

This album is a grower.  At first listen, despite the band’s evident knack for arrangement, Gist Is sounded to me like pure academia masquerading as the precious and endearing confessions of a sensitive soul.  It also seemed like the product of a band with much too much to prove with its first outing, its tangential musical meanderings both interesting but, at times, too much.  While I’m certainly in no opposition to progressive music and often enthralled with unexpected digressions in melody, time signatures and overall structural weirdness, Adult Jazz’s approach had this air of desperation to it, a need to standout above all else—a clear-cut case of quantity meaning more than quality.

But, as I replayed and replayed and replayed Gist Is, the overall presentation began to gel.  Seams disappeared and cohesion became apparent.  One song that had me from the get go was Springful, which begins with this almost nod to The Gun Club’s Jeffrey Lee Pierce, whose post-punk adaptation of blues music seemed the basis for the song’s intro.  This song hits a stride that grabs you, a torrent of bass strokes precede an eastern-themed instrumental that gets caught in a momentary seesaw of boom bap rhythms.  It’s pretty cool, and definitely one of the songs that motivated me to continue to listen to the album with as little prejudice as possible.

While Adult Jazz certainly work in a manner intricate enough to attempt uniqueness, you begin to hear hints of what Foals were attempting with their 2008 debut, Antidotes, world influence that shares some commonality with the aforementioned Dirty Projectors, some of the more mathlete idiosyncrasies of TTNG and some Amnesiac-era Radiohead (especially in Idiot Mantra).  Having said that, the band buries these influences well within its own persona, exploring dub rhythms and loose funk (Donne Tongue), folk (Pigeon Skulls) and some almost Beefheart-ian applications to the indie rock paradigm (Be A Girl).  One of the more straightforward songs on Gist Is, Am Gone stays relatively close to its rhythmic thread, not really venturing too much musically.  Expanding on Hum’s quest to follow Burgess’s vocal instrumentally, guitar notes lightly accompany his voice, chasing every word like the bouncy ball in a televised caption during a sing-along.  And though Am Gone doesn’t necessarily branch out, it does thicken to more of an ensemble piece by its end.

And, while we’re on the topic of “ensemble pieces,” Spook is the album’s opus, an almost 10-minute track comprised of piano-generated ambiance, sections of warm melody and emotive projection.  Structurally the song works in movements or chapters, jumping from place to place without too many gaps interrupting its flow.

One of the few tracks to attempt a discernible hook, the ponderous Bonedigger closes the album with a flurry of guitar plucks and trumpet breaths.  Burgess sings what might be one of my favorite melodies on the album during the song’s first half, his voice low as he repeats himself, a crowd of voices harmonizing beautifully beneath.  It’s a lasting impression and a satisfying closer. 

But seriously, though:  fuck autotune.