Jail Weddings’ epic second full length is quite aptly titled. Meltdown: the flailing emotional implosion often borne of a triumvirate of frayed nerves, volatile substances and excessive external pressure is clearly evidenced in the words and music herein. But, there’s also a newfound sense of musical genres and histories mixing together like molten wax where the band’s signature Shangri-La’s, Bad Seeds, noir-hued pop merges with hazy psychedelia, bombastic rock and even essences of bizarre Eastern European folk. It’s the sound of a band that’s always been at the brink of self-destruction actually growing and thriving on its own chaotic impulses.
It’s now six years into something that wasnʼt expected to last six months — this “thing” called Jail Weddings. While the songs have always been timeless and top notch, they’re also a band whose initial popularity often hinged on the fact that it could all fall apart at any given moment — with frequent dagger eyes or fistfights both onstage and off — where it was always clear to the audience that the high-drama of the songs often spilled into the band members’ own precarious lives. They are a group that audiences could live through vicariously, a band capable of not just inspiring listeners’ ugly catharsis, but often enacting its own in public. One of few that could claim they are not just a band, but a lifestyle all their own.
It was late 2012 when we had last checked in with frontman Gabriel Hart, who explained that last yearʼs Four Future Standards EP (described by VICE Magazine as “music to have knife sex to”) was also the gradual bridge to their more grandiose work-in-progress second full-length. Hart ensured that anyone who thought they were any sort of “party band” would be gravely mistaken upon hearing what they had been stirring up in their charred cauldron. Little did he know it would take well over 365 days to finish what he had started, where the stakes were raised, bank accounts drained, sanity/sobriety and sleep compromised, and their longtime rhythm section and one of their back-up singers lost…where towards the end it would cause him and his eight-headed collective to treat it with all the intensity a band would as if it was the last record they would ever record, even though their present locomotive momentum will prove at least that part otherwise.
And what better process to make a record, Meltdown – A Declaration of Unpopular Emotion which Hart describes as a somewhat conceptual “dissection of the personal Apocalypse.” A record whose liner notes cite such patron saints as disparate as philosopher Carl Jung and enfant terrible Francis Farmer as touchstones? But, this is only for the uninitiated to understand – as within the first listen of Meltdown one will soon realize this record is indeed a vast, universal tantrum, where the best path of protest is often to create one’s own atmosphere, to secede from pain through a self-imposed baptism of fire. And, the end inspiration proves once again one must look no further than Jail Weddings’ own twisted, snake-eating-its-tail world theyʼve created.
Meltdown begins somewhat similarly to their 2010 debut Love Is Lawless — Hartʼs lone baritone accompanied by minimal instrumentation slowly building the anticipation that something is about to leave a crater in its wake. But, instead of the Broadway schmaltz approach of their previous effortʼs intro, the song explodes as if they are going into battle, marching drums and ominous war siren back-ups announce that they are going into this nervous breakdown unabashed. And before we get a chance to catch our breath, they blow right into the electric 12-string guitar of “May Today Be Merciful” where Hart sets the real tone of the record as if Echo and The Bunnymen were lost in some bad trip section of L.A.ʼs Paisley Underground scene. Elsewhere, “Why Is it so Hard To Be Good?” lumbers to a start with thunderous early-Swans sounding drums leading a dark lament of our collective penchant to do wrong. Throughout the album there’s chiming power-pop (“Dead Celebrity Party”), somber balladry (“Summer Fades”, “Obsession”), dramatic pageantry that would make Born To Run era Springsteen blush (“Angel of Sleep”) and so many other twists and turns that the album’s dramatic title will make perfect sense.
Sessions for Meltdown commenced once again at their home base of The Station House in Echo Park with engineer and co-producer Mark Rains (Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Waylon Jennings, etc). The line-up on Meltdown proves to be their most enduring, sturdiest and studied yet – familiar faces from their last effort being Hartʼs right hand man Christopher Rager on guitar (and co-producing), last O.G. member Hannah Blumenfeld on strings (the group has since turned her into an octopus string quartet in the studio – recently earning her full-string duties on the new Ghostface Killer record), secret weapon Marty Sataman on piano/synths, vocalists Jada Wagensomer, Marianne Stewart and Kristina B holding steady as three-part harmony dream team, with Wagensomer occasionally moving front and center as Hartʼs female counterpart, where they duet on “Why Is It So Hard To Be Good?” and “…Keeping The Faith,” also seeing her solo spotlight on “A Promise” and “…Never Going To Find Me.” The new fierce rhythm section that came swinging to rescue the group from mid-recording uncertainty includes Morgan Hart Delaney on bass (and blood, as Hartʼs own cousin) and Hartʼs long co-conspirator Dave Clifford (The VSS, Pleasure Forever, Red Sparowes, Hartʼs own Starvations/Fortuneʼs Flesh) on drums.
JAIL WEDDINGS are…
Gabriel Hart – guitar and vocals
Christopher Rager – guitar
Morgan Hart Delaney – bass
Dave Clifford – drums
Marty Sataman – keys
Hannah Blumenfeld – violin
Marianne Stewart – vocals
Veronica Bianqui – vocals
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S O U N D S