A classy and effortless-sounding set from the streamlined Oxford four-piece.
Daniel Ross 2012
Brainy pop music is having its day in the sun. From Everything Everything to Grizzly Bear, the formats and tenets are being quietly tweaked and pulled to make your average pop fan’s brain expand. When it’s successful, majesty undimmed. When it’s not, well, it falls between two stools and ends up neither poppy enough nor brainy enough. Oxford’s Jonquil (now stripped down to four constituent members where once there were six) have spent two albums exploring the rather less accessible side of that equation, but their third is something rather more centralised.
It’s no surprise to hear that with their personnel streamlined they’ve attuned to a thinner, more direct sound, but the creaminess of their clear influences certainly is. Like Metronomy in 2011, they’ve shunned anything too experimental in favour of a soul-inflected, expansive milieu that seems to suit them. Rubbery, stuttering bass and cheery brass turn opener Swells into a euphoric stomp that’s unafraid of how bold it sounds, while the centrepiece pair of Point of Go (parts one and two) show exactly how capable Jonquil are of holding the interest. A mini-epic that benefits enormously from nagging vocal harmonies in the second part, it’s sad enough to love and fun enough to swing to – a diamond combination.
There are times when it steps into clever-clever territory rather than keeping focus on the melodies and the swelling ambience – the annoyingly angular guitar line in Getaway, for example. Similarly, This Innocent is a sweet synth ballad, but the revolving nature of the chorus isn’t quite enough to hold the interest. But those are minor quibbles – one listen to the glorious Midlake-aping tautness of Real Cold puts paid to any notion that Jonquil aren’t consistently able to produce decent pop.
And that brings us back to the start – Point of Go suggests that Jonquil have managed to assimilate mostly fantastic pop instincts and influences. Any traces of their more noodly past have been reprimanded and held on a tight leash, used only to augment these understated examples. Streamlining has done them good, as has ignoring the need to be as brainy as possible, with classy and effortless-sounding results.