#1. Jumbling Towers – Ramifications Of An Exciting Spouse
It’s been almost four years since Jumbling Towers released their eponymous debut LP, and a lot has changed since then. The band’s lineup, for one, has shuffled a couple times, with singer Joe DeBoer and bassist Nate Drexler representing the held-over half of the lineup. But more than membership, the band has grown considerably in both their approach and their ambition.
You see, to hear Jumbling Towers for the first time back in 2007 was to be caught off guard on multiple levels… The first thing one noticed, without fail, was DeBoer’s vocals, which, at the time, played like clipped soundbytes from a Monty Python film. The second, and more devious detail, was how insidiously compelling the music was – the beats, the Rhodes-led instrumentation, the chord changes – they were the hooks. It all supported the shrill, snooty, British-headmaster-on-crack vocals perfectly, and somehow, impossibly, made the final product quite catchy. It was like realizing that the circus performers are actually really great athletes.
This combination did, however, present a risk. With such a unique and polarizing approach, the band toed the line of novelty, in danger of becoming “that band with the guy who sings in the weird British accent”. Fortunately, once any skeptics heard the perfectly crafted, intravenous pop injection that is “He’s A Cop Now”, they were sold (or, in my mind, forever condemned to a cold hell of boring music). And that was always Jumbling Towers’ underlying strength: that their sensibility for well-written pop music could help convert any who might initially be thwarted by their… eccentricities.
And then, in a year, the scales tipped. The band released Classy Entertainment in the Spring of 2008, and by the end of the first song, the EP’s title track, a statement had been made. There were to be no more apologies, no more accommodations, no more hoping to offset the weird with the attractive… and why should there be? These were just great songs, executed with a perfectly unique and deliberate sound. The quirkiness of DeBoer’s vocals had become a confident cool, the unnatural turned preternatural, buoyed by a greatly expanded sonic palate, a few new toys, and an assured production value that added import to DeBoer’s cryptic lyrics and adroit melodies. The recipe hadn’t changed: Steady drum grooves, the warm plinks and plunks of the Rhodes, fizzing synths, razor-thin guitars, and Drexler’s spartan-yet-nimble bass lines. By now the growing pains had subsided, and the arms and legs had started working in perfect unison. Like a proud parent, I was excited, and anxious for what was next.
I wasn’t disappointed. On the contrary, I was quite surprised. In the fall of 2009, the band announced a 7” single, “Kanetown City Rips” b/w “Gilberta”, to be released on the UK indie imprint Half Machine Records. Beside being rather impressed by the fact that the band had an overseas label putting out their single, I was bowled over by the tracks. “Kanetown” rolled around like a spherical sugarcube, dissolving deliciously, while “Gilberta” straddled that beautiful line between club-knocking banger and pop anthem. It was that perfect moment of a band delivering exactly what I wanted, like a kid on Christmas. There was no “Ok, I’ll have to give that one a few more listens” – I was immediately and entirely sated. But then very quickly, and quite understandably, I wanted to hear more.
The following Spring brought The Kanetown City Rips full-length, a sonically ambitious yet musically steadfast progression from the promise of the 7” single. The album inhabits a cheeky, quasi-post-apocalyptic fiction that flirts with issues of youthful disillusionment, but the concept serves a greater purpose as the bedrock for a very specific and effective musical atmosphere – one that is both incredibly unique and cohesive. For nine tracks, Jumbling Towers stick their necks out, tell a bizarrely metaphorical story of sorts, have some fun, play some great songs, don’t disappoint… and don’t blink. Not once.
And all of that history was merely an exhaustive prelude to this: On November 12, 2010, Jumbling Towers released the Ramifications Of An Exciting Spouse EP – my favorite EP of the year. Resting on laurels is for chumps, and as easy as it would have been to rehash the solid material from Kanetown, Jumbling Towers is a better band than that. From the outset, the EP crackles, burns, glimmers and knocks with a vibrance and newness I had yet to hear from this band. It was as if they knew exactly what I wanted to hear them do next, and they went out and did it.
The title track opens with a riding piano line and clap-snare before a synth bass stumbles in and sits its fat ass down. Freed from the constraints of a unified album concept, DeBoer ruminates on the upward mobility of the wealthy and their insatiable need for more. “Can ambition drive you crazy? Absolutely.” he intones over the beat. The tempo doubles for the building prechorus, teasing with a return to the verse, before breaking open into a chorus that pulses over a club-track beat. Atypical songs structures, beats dropping and then doubling and then dropping out entirely… Never a dull moment with these guys.
The next three tracks offer no less fanfare. The chorus of “Severe” is an instant earworm, as is the chanted paranoia of “Watch out for cameras… watch out for managers” in the cooled-out groove of “Outlet Store”. “Breakdancers” plays like a lost gem from Junior Senior’s last album, with it’s blurting guitar squiggles and 808 breaks, but takes choice moments to dip in and out of the softer side of things, serving up waterfall synths as DeBoer advises “Take all advances with the smallest hint of salt and water”. The EP’s closing track, “Typecasting in Eugene”, is a more pensive venture, with DeBoer ruminating on the plight of a high-school grad torn between attending college and enjoying the long-anticpated freedoms of adulthood. The song’s instrumentation paints a perfect image of it’s geographic setting – the verse piano line evokes a light and dreary rain, with a sweeping and swooning ocean tide chorus.
The real beauty of this EP is that it is the latest in a series of releases all pointing to one truth about Jumbling Towers: They never seem comfortable enough to stay where they are, but yet seem increasingly comfortable with who they are. This is a very good sign – one that bodes well for the future of a band with a unique sound and incredibly keen pop senses. Hopefully by the time their next LP (which is rumored to be completely tracked and scheduled for mixing in the next few months) is ready to be disseminated, there will be a tuned-in and turned-on audience ready to be bowled over by truly singular pop music (read: Tell ya kids! Tell ya wife!) If the band is into taking their own advice (which it would seem they are), these words from “Outlet Store” should serve them well: “Find some momentum, let it carry you around… Find some character, it’ll keep you in the now.”
RIYL: Junior Senior, Menomena, Of Montreal, Gorillaz, Destroyer, Handsome Furs