And God said, “Let there be the Jigsaw Seen.” Then, there was an album. And God heard the album and there were good vibes.
The Jigsaw Seen is an indie rock group with a throwback sound you may have yet to hear despite its longevity on the music scene. It’s the best kept open secret in the industry, and those who have discovered the band over the past twenty-five years know that its retro-sound is anything but a retro. You won’t find them playing shows dressed as rockers of yore, imitating old acts or riding on the coattails of the classics. And yet, you won’t find them playing huge arenas either. They simply don’t need the massive hype and their fans don’t need them to be worldwide phenomenons to appreciate their work. These men are independently talented and use the past as inspiration for what they’re producing in the present: high caliber sound through ingenious creativity and endless experimentation.
The band’s latest effort, Old Man Reverb, is a wonderful blend of past and present, an artistically-cultivated orchestration of sound with whimsical lyrics that is not only pleasing to the ear, but offers the listener a sense of experience akin to hearing songs passed down through generations of musicians.
But enough of the purple prose — or perhaps purple praise. In all seriousness, it is nearly impossible, and maybe even insulting, to file Old Man Reverb under any particular genre; it has a subtle fluidity that borrows from various eras and styles, from pop to rock, from a certain ’60s simplicity to a ’70s prog complexity. Think Days of Future Passed-era Moody Blues meets Jethro Tull meets The Hollies meets Blue Öyster Cult. I could go on, really. There are hints of Eastern influence, dramatic country flare, and a bit of new-wave straightforwardness. Do not let their influences detract from the individuality of this band, though. The Jigsaw Seen use the familiar as a foundation for their music; the sound is definitively their own.
The album plays out like a cautionary minstrel’s tale for the 21st century, commenting on both the artist’s and the audience’s perspective on the state of contemporary music, with a few unrelated tangents thrown in for good measure. From the very first track, “Let There Be Reverb,” the listener is hooked, caught by an addictive garage-rock riff, courtesy of guitarist Jonathan Lea. Catchy, upbeat, and meaningful, the song’s clever meta-lyrics by singer Dennis Davison explore the art of producing music while searching for balance between creativity and the corporate nature of the industry.
“Idiots with Guitars,” is a gem that explore similar themes, but moves to a slower tempo, with a funeral march-esque backbeat by drummer Teddy Freese. Its sharper commentary leaves the listener feeling some resentment for the current pop culture trend of valuing stardom over talent. Davison’s lyrics throughout Old Man Reverb offer small allusions to mythology, folklore, and historical legend, which add to the grandeur of the album and presents the work as something almost epic. Not bad for a band you still haven’t heard, huh?
Most of the songs on the album, from the morbidly humorous and bouncy “Die Laughing” to the exotically rocking “We Women” — a caffeine-injected reworking of their 2003 single, which you can buy on iTunes while you wait for Old Man Reverb — to the droning carnival-like atmosphere of “Madame Whirligig” are emotionally stimulating and sonically gratifying. Certain tracks, like “Your Mind is Like Mine” and “Hercules and Sylvia” (about Davison’s reflection on two gorillas in captivity at the Baltimore Zoo during his childhood) accord the album a sense of personal revelation and openness. As for myself, I particularly enjoy “Abide” which initially comes off as a Per Qualche Dollaro in Più pastiche, but with more spirited guitar flare, a steady, driving rhythm section from Freese and bassist Tom Currier, and grand lyrics.
What the Jigsaw Seen do particularly well is balance its songs in order to achieve a big sound without resorting to over-powered instrumentation or harsh vocals. The band can produce a good rocker without being showy (“Let There Be Reverb”) and a gentler ballad with haunting vocals that doesn’t stray into the cliché or sound corny. The Jigsaw Seen are excellent at letting the dedication they put into making good music stand at the forefront of their releases. Old Man Reverb follows their established pattern of careful crafting, timing, and consistency. This band loves making music and that love is tangible in their product.
HEAR IT YOURSELF: Old Man Reverb releases on CD, vinyl, cassette (limited release), and digital download on September 16. You can preorder your copy at the band’s Big Cartel Store and Amazon.com. A fan-contributed music video for “Let There Be Reverb” is in the works — watch for it soon on REBEAT!