In just the first four tracks of Circulation – the Vancouver quartet’s full-length debut (released by Light Organ Records on 15th July) – JPNSGRLS (pronounced as “Japanese Girls”) clearly demarcate what makes them so special in this age of pristine pop hacks and artless copyists. There’s the visceral melodicism of 90s grunge (“Smalls”), the slinky dynamism of 70s power pop (“Tiger”), the epic urgency of the millennial post-punk revival (“Brandon”) and the post-modern appropriation of Afrocentric music (“Circulation”), that demonstrate the band’s ability to slip and slide across the various musical references that have driven contemporary indie rock into mainstream acceptance.
Central to JPNSGRLS modus operandi is a willingness to break down its song components into clearly definable roles that is distinctive enough to stand on its own but the sum of which is greater than its individual parts. In theoretical terms, whilst the song accompaniments perform their harmonic functions, there are also enough polyphonic elements in the guitars (Oliver Mann), bass (Chris McClelland) and drums (Graham Serl) to create entirely unique arrangements that elevate these songs way above your what even the most competent rhythm sections are able to achieve in indie rock.
Singer Charlie Kerr’s vocal delivery of the meaningful lyrics is the glue that keeps this intricate latticework moving together like a well-designed well-oiled music machine. Kerr certainly has a way to make his singing almost conversational in tone, emotionally resonant and yet operating as highly intelligent banter as well. Like in the way he expresses a sense of low self-esteem in the title track – “Like I’m counting Mississippi’s till it’s convenient/You say I’m nothing baby, we’re in agreement” or in the manner he pays tribute to the late Brandon Teena in “Brandon” (a trans man who was tragically raped and murdered) “Cause Brandon really understands/What it means to be a man” or in the internal psychological warfare that thrives within relationships expressed in the animalistic iconology of “Tiger” – “I’m a spider/I wanna crawl up your legs girl”.
But of course, Circulation is more than its first four tracks as the band brings the lyrical and musical concepts further in the frenetic “Mushrooms”, the mesmerizing “Tennis Shoes”, the rollicking “Laughing Gas” and the angularly funky “David and Goliath”. Simply put, Circulation is one of those albums, rock lovers can listen to all the way through – a rarity in itself in 2014. Bloody essential!