August 15, 2016
Released On September 1, 1998
Released By Breaking Records
“I’m sure someone would hear me across the miles…”
It amazes me how strong the emotional bonds that connect you to a band or album can be, given the fragile, uncertain way those bonds are formed. There are a zillion albums out there, billions of people you could get recommendations from, yet there you are — contently listening to this one set of 10 or so songs over and over.
I was incredibly lucky in that, out of those billions of people, I ended up in the same family with a Beatles-obsessed older sister who set an excellent musical example when we were growing up. My own Beatles obsession came much later, as did my appreciation for a number of bands she listened to in their heyday, when I was listening to… Raffi? Ska? Who knows. But she was into The Mountain Goats back then. Now I’m into The Mountain Goats. She went to see Jump, Little Children after Magazine came out. Now I’m writing about Magazine for this newsletter. Sense a pattern?
While I’ve benefited from her example my whole life, I never stopped to think about how she didn’t have an older sibling to recommend things to her. Our dad loved music, and we’ve both pilfered his records when building our collections, but I only recently learned that Lexi, a friend of my sister’s I met just a few times, acted as an example setter to her. (Also her wedding photographer.) Lexi’s who told my sister about Jump, Little Children — The Mountain Goats, too — and Lexi’s who went with her to see Jump after Magazine came out.
I got to see them live only once — I believe it was at Cat’s Cradle in 2003 or 2004, and I went with a college girlfriend. She’s actually the one who started me on Jump, but they were one of a few bands that were so personal to her that I wasn’t allowed to tell people about them. I’d guess that was around the time I stole my sister’s copy of The Early Years, Volume 1, which compiled the band’s first two releases, Buzz and The Licorice Tea Demos. Now that the group is broken up, I feel bad about not singing their praises sooner.
When I told my sister I was thinking about choosing a Jump, Little Children album for OYR, she excitedly asked to see my phone, which I was using to browse Magazine tracks. The enthusiasm with which she skipped around the album cemented my pick. You could argue that’s the best way to experience Magazine, given how varied and kinetic the songs are. Skip to “My Guitar” if you feel like rolling around on your bedroom floor playing air guitar. Go to “Body Parts” if you’re feeling a bit creepy. Put on “Cathedrals” or “Close Your Eyes” if you feel like having your heart sweetly ripped out of your chest.
Before that trip to New Jersey, I thought about choosing Vertigo, which is a very different but equally affecting album. You can see it on their covers — where Vertigo is elegant and consistent, Magazine is rougher and brighter. Both generate mixed reviews, depending on which part of the interweb you’re looking at, but I’d recommend them highly.
Lexi died not long after my sister’s wedding. When I found out Lexi was the one who turned my sister onto Jump, I was overwhelmed by a gratitude I’d never be able to express directly, and by existential questions like How many musical fairy godmothers like Lexi do we have that we don’t know about? and How close were we to never finding out about the music we love? All the more reason to spread the word when you do find something you care about.
A band for rock lovers of all shapes and sizes, from “skylarking” Sgt. Pepper fans to “deluxe” Pinkerton followers.
I love a good “1, 2, 3, 4!” intro and this album has four of them in one song! “I’m gonna do a series of them,” a voice on the phone says at the beginning of “Come Out Clean.” And then an acoustic guitar starts playing while the voice goes through the series. I’m no music theory expert, but it seemed like he wasn’t counting in at the same tempo on any two iterations and yet the guitar always seemed to be playing at a speed where the count-in worked. I loved it. On the pop-punk album I’ll never make, I will definitely lead off a song with a tribute to this. What I liked on a more macro level was how eclectic the song styles are on this album. They all fit together, but they’re different and interesting and not just 11 of the same song. There’s the rough raw opener “Not Today” which leads into the smoother “Violent Dreams” (my favorite song on the album) which contains the gorgeously delivered line “One black day in ghostly white / For just another sleepless night”. In fact, “For just another sleepless night” gives me chills each time it shows up in this song. In other parts of the album you have the seductive, almost cold (despite the steamy subject matter) “Body Parts” and the Weezer-esque axe-ode “My Guitar.” All told, this is an album that will stand up to repeat listens and I’m once again thankful that I’m a part of this newsletter for the completely selfish reason that it lets me discover fantastic albums like this one!
So much of this album brings back great memories. In 1998, I was a sophomore in high school, just trying to figure it all out. I had nearly severed all ties with the rock world at this point, converting to hip hop almost exclusively. But, my closest friends were just coming around to welcoming rap into their consciousness, and that brings me to David Jones, or “Davy” as most of you Richmond-ers have come to know him. David, sometimes Dave, never Davy, and I have been close friends since our early high school days. We went to the same middle school, and even had some classes together, but we really came to know each other cutting awful demos in the basement of a mutual friend. Dave would make the ladies swoon with his flip flop rock/crooning. I would lug my turntables over to the same basement and scratch curse words over Dave’s (if you haven’t figured out by now, I refuse to acknowledge him as Davy) mellow ballads. I’m not joking. It was fun. And Magazine by Jump, Little Children brings all those great feelings back for me. Maybe it’s the exuberance of “Not Today” and “Violent Dreams?” Or maybe it’s the yearning for belonging and acceptance in “Cathedrals?” It’s almost certainly the angst and sexual frustration of “Body Parts,” where adolescence often changes from placid to chaos in a heartbeat. I had never heard this album before this week, but trust me, I’d kind of heard it a hundred times before. I’d give anything for one more Friday night joyride in David’s 1960-something powder blue Dodge Dart (true story). But I guess I’ll have to settle for Magazine instead.
My knowledge of Jump, Little Children before this week was simply based off the fact that their song “Mexico” was on the Wish I Was Here soundtrack. (A film I backed on Kickstarter, fact fans! I don’t find Zach Braff obnoxious!) Turns out though “Mexico” isn’t on Magazine, so I was back to square one. I’m certain I’ve heard “Cathedrals” before, but couldn’t really place where. However, that track is a gem which I highly recommend you go listen too. Sometimes I find it difficult to find the words to really describe a record and Magazine is one of those situations. This is a good album though, eclectic and accessible… oh wait, I just found the words. Never mind. Point is this is a record that’s hard to pin down. It jumps from up tempo to slow and bounces around, never letting you take a breath. Jump, Little Children make each song sound effortless and there’s some really nice arrangements on most of the tracks that really elevates the songs. It’s a testament to the band that this doesn’t really sound like it’s from 1998. Rather, it feels like it should belong in the indie boom of the mid-noughties. Magazine sounds like a record ahead of their time and it’s an ultimately fun record that’s worth your time.
James Peart (@choccyr)
Fascinated Binger Of Musical Zeitgeist
Drive out into the American countryside, go beyond the rows of giant chain stores and fast food places that litter the suburbs, down into the state routes populated by ranch houses with long driveways and flowering vines on the mailboxes, and you will find the facades of happy lives. To conservative politicians, here lives Real Americans, those God-fearing families that have stay-at-home mothers and chickens in the backyard. Here, legacy dads file out every Friday night to football games, cheering on the home team even when they don’t have a child on the starting line. Here, churches and high schools take up collection when a house burns down, or when families will go without gifts from Santa on Christmas. Too, though, here teachers and your friends’ mothers look away when you ask to spend the night during the week and show up with bruises down to your ankles. In the country, you don’t speak all you know; you cover up, make a happy face, and ignore the ugliness of others because it isn’t your business. At fifteen, when I first heard “Cathedrals” on the radio, the palpability of sadness contained in that song struck through the heart. I borrowed Magazine from my friend Amy, tucked into my Discman, and spun the album out on long walks down the dirt road that was my grandparents’ driveway. Including “Close Your Eyes,” those two tracks play out in surprising relief against the exploration that is the rest of the album. Well-timed inside the album, these two songs pull out the pretty elements found in songs like “Say Goodnight” or “All Those Days Are Gone” and allow them to blossom. My fascination with this album, the reason Amy had to kind of insistently ask for her CD back, comes not from any individual song, but in the juxtaposition of emotion held between tracks. In “My Guitar,” the Weezer-esque jubilance of penning a love song to an object plays unquestioned, a fun and light-hearted classic ’90s jam that directly follows the broody, angry talk-rap of “Body Parts” without breaking the sound of the band, of the album. Believable in its emotional and auditory roaming, Magazine makes space for a heartfelt range by giving each song, each sound, equal footing. At fifteen, I had moved past an awareness that not everyone was afraid of her father, but had not yet fully realized that I was allowed to perform the sadness that comes with that fear. Inside those headphones, on unhurried walks alone through the cow fields of my neighbors, this album gave me space to speak in that voice.
It would be just perfect if this picture was of the band playing “My Guitar.”
Well these dudes sound like they are having fun. Maybe you’ll have fun too with this little batch of sitcom worthy alterna-pop! Go straight for the catchy “Come Out Clean” and “All Those Days Are Gone.” Taking pages from the books of Better Than Ezra and Semisonic, Magazine is a confluence of all the innocuously tasteful bits of alternative rock that preceded it. There’s a bit of weirdness happening on “Body Parts” and “Habit,” which makes me wonder if they had run across the likes of Self, Soul Coughing, and Tricky. The strong suit of the album is its poppiness and ballads with a penchant for broad appeal, it’s the stuff of yard parties and summer outdoor shows. While on the continuum it sits too M.O.R. for my liking, it’s a well-produced and perfectly pleasant release for those with less fussy and esoteric tastes.
It’s always a good sign when I hear an OYR selection for the first time, and immediately think back to the year it was released and wonder how I missed it. I checked to see if Magazine was produced by one my favorite ’90s producers, Brad Wood (Liz Phair, that dog., Noise Addict), but he in fact did Jump, Little Children’s next record, Vertigo. Magazine even reminds me of something else I loved in 1998, Head Trip In Every Key by Superdrag. While J,LC’s music shares a lot of the same power pop leanings, it also explores ’90s radio in the form of both powerful ballads and jam-my rock songs like “Body Parts.” I was surprised to read the big ballad “Cathedrals” was the popular single from Magazine — while it’s a lovely song, it didn’t stand out to me right away. Perhaps it caught on because of the lyrics, which really capture the kind of wanderlust and nostalgia that young people often experience: “In the cathedrals of New York and Rome / There is a feeling that you should just go home / And spend a lifetime finding out just where that is.” “My Guitar” is a totally corny song with noodling guitars and lyrics such as “I’d like to see you out one night / Dressed up like a rock-n-roll star / Straight out of some strange magazine / Then I know I’d love you” and I freaking love it. It’s a complete blast, like the rest of Magazine, which is a fine addition to the OYR canon.
“There is a feeling that you should just go home / And spend a lifetime finding out just where that is”
Magazine is a work that represents a lot of the different personalities of Jump, Little Children. This could be a composite of having two polar opposite songwriters that somehow find an innate ability of cohesively helming their material to make a strong major label debut. Jay Clifford could be considered a student of The Beatles, XTC, and other staples of music originating from over the Atlantic. On the other hand, Matthew Bivins seems to find his voice akin to the ideas of a songwriter like Beck. Bivins will take a fragment of musical idea and pull a complete reversal to unveil something uncanny. In many ways, that’s why Magazine works. By 1998, the world had grown used to the idea of reflective transformation. Clifford could go from writing a catapulting rock song like “Not Today” or “Violent Dreams” and not have it feel out of place next to folk confessionals like “Close Your Eyes” and “Cathedrals.” Bivins’ vision is highlighted on the two tracks “Body Parts” and “Habit.” The former exhibits a confident stride while gracefully swaggering around subjects considered taboo by rock standards. The latter is a three act play about addiction and playfully engaging tragedy with a dance soundtrack. When put next to one another, you have a collection of songs that flutter between the spectrums of rock music. And to think that Jump, Little Children began as a band inspired by the culture of Irish traditional music. The story from their origins in 1991 and where the ended up in 1998 is somewhere in the mix of Magazine. For now, there is enough to take in for multiple listens and analyzations.
Let’s jump back to the ’90s this week. No, not that ’90s, I’m talking about a version of the ’90s that you might not instantly be thinking about. Magazine is making me reminiscent for all the weird post-grunge pop/whatever underground bands on record labels like Mammoth, Scratchie or maybe even something of the Grass Of ’96 sampler. Songs like “My Guitar” are a great example of what early Weezer might have sounded like if they wrote for nerdy They Might Be Giants fans. And I don’t know what it is about “Violent Dreams,” but I’m also reminded of the Chicago glam-alternative band Chainsaw Kittens. It’s not a shock to learn that Jump, Little Children started at in UNCSA in Winston-Salem, NC, feeding off the same regional energy that brought us bands like Superchunk, Ben Folds Five, and Southern Culture On The Skids. The best part of this era was none of the bands sounded exactly the same. If you didn’t like the humor, or maybe the seriousness of a band, you could still land on Jump, Little Children.
I don’t think I’m breaking the Off Your Radar charter by saying that Jump, Little Children’s Magazine is a very uneven album. No doubt there are several good songs here, but nearly as many misses. However, having been in bands, I also know how hard it is to come up with one great song and the opening song, “Not Today,” is one hell of a great song. This blast of triumph over frustration should be on the short list for a new National Anthem, or at least used as the theme song for a wildly popular TV show. Let me break it down for you. “I’m sure someone would hear me if I scream,” Jay Clifford squeals out in a strangled scream that’s nearly unintelligible the first time. Then – CRUNCH – the twin lead guitars land with a thud, accompanied by an harmonica, dealing out a sweet glammy riff along with slamming drums and stadium-filling “na na na’s.” This is brash, confident R-O-C-K in the U-S-A and I can’t get enough. “But not today,” Clifford continues, rushing right into the next line: “I’m sure someone would notice if I seemed… Out of touch or hard to find. But not today.” Marc Bolan used to do this kind of stuff with T. Rex, blowing out the blues with a wall of guitars and earworm choruses. Then Clifford deals the coup de grace: “I don’t mind being lonely once in awhile. But not today. I’m sure someone would hear me across the miles… If I’m outta touch or way behind. But not today.” Isolation, loneliness, self-effacement — not exactly happy, sing-along emotions, but JLC just doesn’t care. And you won’t either. I dare you to not put this song on repeat. Rock on, little children.
Magazine is steeped in ’90s rock, so much so that you’re not going to find many discussions about the record without talking about other ’90s bands. I mean, the ’90s just slap you in the face before you even put the record on. It was released on Breaking Records, a label imprint of Atlantic Records started by Hootie & The Blowfish (and what is more ’90s than Hootie?). Its producer, Brad Jones, worked on some of the best “off your radar” music of the ’90s, like the self-titled records from both Jill Sobule and Imperial Drag. Even that album cover seems like an alt-rock take on a band portrait, something that could have very well been the back-up cover for Pablo Honey. Musically, it starts off in a very ’90s way too with a reminiscent “na-na-na” melody on “Not Today,” a perfect rock song that seemed like it should have been on the soundtrack for Can’t Hardly Wait — maybe in that “Hootie” scene to bring it all full circle. As the record moves on though, the impression of ’90s music only grows stronger as they go from style to style. It’s not so much that the record is “of its time,” but it’s a celebration of that time and the wonderful variety we got within alt-rock around that time. Here’s a record where you’re going from restrained emotional pleas (“B-13“) to biting spoken word electricity (“Habit“), both of which could have easily been grouped together on any alt-radio station. Listening to Magazine is like picking up an actual magazine in the grocery store, one that’s all about ’90s rock music and all its divided sub-sections. You flip to a page and there’s the power pop beauty of “Not Today” and then flip to the next and there’s the weird, abrasive creativity of “Body Parts“. If you’re like me, you probably linger on the page about “Cathedrals” and it’s sincere rock beauty that is timelessly powerful. Each page, there’s some new angle reminding you why we look back on this decade so glowingly. If that magazine sounds enticing to you in any way (and how could it not?!), then stop what you’re doing, put this record on now, and begin to fall in love with Jump, Little Children as much as you did the ’90s in the first place.
Emergency Ward by Nina Simone
Chosen By Guest Contributor Adam Schatz (of Landlady)