When art-punk doomsayers The Blood Brothers called it quits in late 2007, Johnny Whitney and Cody Votolato still hadn’t considered their futures. A talk or two later and the vocalist/guitarist decided to stick together.
Bringing in Jay Clark of the also-deceased Pretty Girls Make Graves as bassist and drummer, Jaguar Love formed, reeling in influences and ambitions that were fresh to two guys who had spent a decade in their previous group.
Take Me to the Sea, Love’s 2008 debut, saw the trio trekking into soulful indie/ post-punk. They retained a few tools from the Brothers’ repertoire (a love for over-the-top song titles like “Vagabond Ballroom” and “Bonetrees and a Broken Heart”) and dialed down the overt sense of mayhem (“Highways of Gold” featured harmonies sparkling among chaos). Overall, the experience was distinct but not too adventurous. With Hologram Jams, their sophomore LP released last week by Fat Possum Records, Jaguar Love spins an entirely different story.
“Take Me is more of a classic rock-feeling record,” explains Votolato, whereas Hologram is a “a shiny, dance-y, fun record.” His analysis is apropos: Trading jagged guitars for bouncy synth theatrics, he and Whitney have made something far brighter than anything their old band produced.
Hologram Jams shows off an outfit unafraid to polish their material for new guests. Spunky though not carefree, there’s an unexpectedly affable tint to the whole affair—like the album is overseen by a neon sign (inviting, not dreary). The electrified rhythms are inescapable, but deft tracks like “Polaroids and Red Wine” make the search for killer hooks worth it. Owing to the players’ unrefined sonic pasts, an edgy undercurrent lurks beneath the glammed-up surface.
In February 2009, Whitney announced in a MySpace blog that Clark had left the group. Around that time frame, the former Brothers put their second album into motion. “It’s been super-cool making this with one person. We have a lot of faith in each other,” attests Votolato. “There’s not a lot of ego and criticism involved. It’s more a support system.”
The duo wrote Hologram Jams by kicking ideas around in e-mails—while they were both in the same city. Situated in their respective Portland, Ore., residences, the pair only congregated to rehearse for concerts. The guitarist is certain that the unusual approach paid off. “There was no sitting in the practice space jamming for hours, getting nowhere. It was all very focused.”
In the same MySpace bulletin that made Clark’s exit public, Whitney hinted at Hologram’s off-kilter spectacle by calling it “Daft Punk meets New Order meets Black Flag.” With the album long completed, Votolato still vouches for the comparison, by and large (“It gets a funny reaction”) but wants to throw in “something melodic” to account for the airy melancholy that envelops “Evaline.”
Even with an outspoken interest in electronica, hip-hop, and pop, the element that keeps Jaguar Love from hitting allout dance party mode is Whitney’s vocals.
His high-pitched caterwaul has cooled off since his stint in Brothers but still carries a traumatized, fractured tone that grates easily. Despite this, Votolato still swears by his bandmate’s singing. “I’m of the opinion that he can sing over anything,” he says. “Johnny’s got a polarizing voice. Some people really don’t like it.” From the guitarist’s perspective, that unmistakable flavor is ultimately an asset: “It doesn’t meet in the middle [like] ‘Yeah, he can sing, cool, but he sounds just like every other indie rocker.’”
As of late, the two-piece employed a drummer to flesh out their touring act. Votolato believes that the “less abrasive” nature of their work (in comparison to the Brothers) means the pair might be able to achieve wider success, eventually leading to (fingers crossed) tours in Japan and South America. Though they haven’t expressed any post-Hologram hopes, the love for dance music will continue to play a prominent role in their oeuvre. Most of all, Votolato doesn’t want Jaguar Love to ever rest on an unruly attitude—a far cry from The Blood Brothers’ violent imagery.
“People hardly know us, so it’s hard to think about how we’ll be remembered,” he says, “but it’d be cool if people remembered us as something that inspired positivity and love.”
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