Sunday, November 16, 2008

International Jetsetters - Heart Is Black

"Heart Is Black" is the debut EP release of Oxford, UK band, International Jetsetters. Brilliantly crafted, it features six songs which cover a wide range of emotions and sonic textures. The songwriting and production are meticulously executed, with deep basslines, fluid drumming, rich guitar layers and passionately expressive vocals. Singer and guitarist Mark Crozer (who also plays in the current Jesus & Mary Chain lineup) originally formed the band with bassist Bert Audubert. The addition of Loz Colbert on drums (ex Ride, current Jesus & Mary Chain) along with Paul Crozer on lead guitar and Fi McFall on vocals make for an extremely potent lineup.

The opening track “Inside Out” rises out of a chiming Rickenbacker guitar sound and snare drum roll buildup to the full-on band throttle of Loz Colberts muscular drumming and Bert Audubert’s deep throbbing basslines. Mark Crozer’s lead vocals are smooth and sugary in your ears as he sings, “you can turn me inside out, call me like you always do, honey I’ll come running straight to you”. It’s a love song, then. I have heard this song in a number of different performances over the last year, and the thing that jumps out at me with this - the definitive recorded version - is Bert’s basslines. On this recording they add a new dimension and rhythm that was previously unnoticed (at least to my ears) before this.

Female vocalist Fi McFall makes her first appearance on this record singing the backup lines to the bridge that goes “will you need me in the morning - tearing out my heart for you, so honey - don’t throw it back at me.”

Structurally, what follows is a unique instrumental passage, where additional guitars appear over top - perhaps the work of guitarist Paul Crozer? And although this is an impeccable recording, the overall feel of performances (especially drummer Colbert) are very “live” and natural.

Its back to the bridge again, with Fi singing backup - but Mark does an interesting thing with his voice in the mix here - singing in a timbre different from the first pass through - and positioning it elsewhere in the stereo field (as I listen on headphones - the only way to really hear what’s going on) - it is a subtle difference, but one that shows a precise attention to detail and a keen sense of wanting to avoid casual repetition. Meanwhile, Loz’s drumming burst through like it was a live performance.

Back to the hook line of “you can turn me inside out” and then it’s done. All packed into a not-a-second-wasted 2:28. Brilliantly executed.

Watch the video for "Inside Out" - directed by Dave Motion, right here:

Next up is “Inside Yourself” (yes, another song title with “inside” as the first word). Here the opening guitar sound is quite different. It has an almost middle eastern feel to it. It actually sounds like there are two guitars making this singular sound - one playing the higher register, while the other striking notes in a lower spectrum - with Loz’s tapping out a bright and vibrant cymbal count - onto the full drum kit kicking in and Bert there again with his rich, deep bass guitar tones delivering a deep sonic bottom to it all.

“You never look inside yourself” Mark sings in a higher, almost-falsetto voice - with a creative vocal echo trailing his line - here Mark displays his highly-evolved studio skills, by creating this trippy vocal ambiance. It’s all just bass and drums at this point. Then the guitars come in on “you’re always looking somewhere else, to ease your troubled mind -but you never look inside yourself”. Verse two comes on a bit stronger, with some tasty guitar fills between the spaces. “You never see the darkness that’s inside.”

It breaks to the bridge, and the drums go double time as Fi returns to sing with Mark, “but I hope you can change, cause I think you need to change”. It’s quick and to the point - perfectly placed, and absolutely essential.

A full instrumental pass through the verse and bridge sections, leading to the next vocal part. “You never speak the truth when you can lie,” Mark sings - as Bert’s bass throbs in stark space against stripped down snare and high-hat percussion. “You never see what’s right in front of you” it continues. Lyrically, the song is very much in the same sprit as Bob Dylan’s “Positively 4th Street”. It is the classic “put down” song - not nearly as abrasive or damning - and the door is certainly left open with the end out reprising the bridge’s “well I hope you can change, cause I think you need to”. The musical end-out is particularly interesting - as the guitars (and what other instruments or effects are in there) give it an overall symphonic or orchestral sound - against an alternating driving/pulsating bassline from Bert - that ends with a single bright guitar chord strum.

"Never Slows Down” begins with a stark, single guitar marking out the basic song progression for one quick pass through before vocalist Fi McFall takes center stage and delivers the vocals in a clear and vibrant tone. Singing about “days slipping away” and how “time waits for no one,” she quickly gets to the thematic center, and how it “never slows down” - as powerful bass notes and clack-stick percussion create the ticking timepiece effect that perfectly matches the mood.

“Lovers appear and change your life,” Fi sings - “but love can falter overnight” and in fact “time goes by so quickly” - now Loz start the rat-tat-tat on the snare drum in quicker time as Fi sings “it never slows down, never slows down” - bold, definitive bass notes from Bert create the dominant musical movement as lightly strummed guitar becomes increasingly forceful. On to a big, full band musical interlude - that has sophisticated changes embedded within the basic framework. It has a somewhat Beatles feel to it (Sgt. Pepper era) here - with Loz’s drumming allowed to engage in some press-rolls and stuttered bass drum enhancements.

The final verse is bigger and bolder than all that have come before it. I’m reminded of those classic big production songs from the late 1960’s - with their rising, anthemic productions. The feel and vibe is not unlike the era that gave us "Get Together" by The Youngbloods - this period and style of pop radio music.

The end-out is just gorgeous. There are precisely placed layers of guitars creating sub-melodies and textures. There is a rising effect on one guitar that gives the sensation of an aircraft taking off. A chorus of Fi’s (and others, I’m sure) vocals layering “ahhhh, aahhhhh, oh, oh’s” over it all. It ends with a long, drawn out reverberated note. Wonderful.

"My Redemption" begins with Fi singing right from the start - pared only against a single strummed guitar. Lyrically, this may be the most beautiful of all the songs on here. "This island, used to be a dark and lonely place. But you kissed me, and the sun came out, and shed its light across my face." Slowly the bass and drums enter the mix, against the title line. "We could be lovers," Fi continues, as Loz's drumming starts marking out the time, "though I'm scared I'd mess things up" as the band builds to a big instrumental passage. Here I will now invoking the name of influential band The Jesus & Mary Chain. This rhythmic passage is pure "Some Candy Talking". Maybe not in chord structure or notes - but absolutely in feel. And feel is what its all about.

It gets bigger now - "just one kiss, one simple kiss" sings Fi and paints the picture of a "perfect high, that I can't resist". And how "its a long way from the emptiness, that used to be my life". The instrumentation and production is clean and uncomplicated. At just under three minutes long, its a gorgeous song that wastes not a moment of the listeners time, but delivers the goods in knockout fashion.

"Heart Is Black" begins with stripped-down acoustic guitar filling the stereo channels, with deep percussion complementing that, just to let you know this is a studio production. "One more kiss" Mark beings, "and then I'll walk away - she'll only cut me deeper if I stay". The percussion track is particularly interesting. A combination of hand-clap sounds and deep, booming (distant) timphony-like drums. On arriving at the title line, Mark adds a buzzing guitar effect, alternating with his now-doubled vocals. This creates and unsettling effect, which matches the overall lyrical mood. A koto-like (sharp plucked) sound enters the mix. The Cure used this sonic enhancement on a number of records, and it was recently discovered that Mark is (at the very least, sometimes) an admirer of their music.

The song is very dark and personal. His voice is mixed up close in your ear. "She's isolation. She wears it like a veil", he sings. The words are drawn out for maximum effect. "And although I love her still, I can't live in this hell".

"Never Slows Down" (demo). Here we gain a greater understanding of the genesis of this song. This version sung by Mark has a decidedly different feel. The early stark guitar instrumentation is similar, but appears to be pitched down into a lower register. Additionally, tambourine against bass-drum percussion accompany Mark's vocals from the start. The leaner guitar instrumentation here gives greater force to Bert's minimal, but sonically crucial bass notes. Its a powerful song that evokes a myriad of emotions. An even bigger difference is the rich sonic textures that accompany Mark on the second vocal pass through. It sounds like an e-bow effected guitar. The mood is very orchestral - like Bowie's "Space Oddity". This sound drives along with the rest of the full band, as Loz's provides clean, efficient drumming. The final verse now has Mark singing with cathedral-like reverence. "Beneath the stars I pray - but sometimes even God can't save" he states.

The final passage brings it all full-on as additional guitars are powerfully strummed down, creating a head-spinning sonic swirl. Vocal "ahhhh's" blend in with jangling bells percussion, more guitars layered in - creating a sonic space that brings to mind the same uplifting beauty that My Bloody Valentine has created.

"Heart Is Black" has been released on Planting Seeds Records, and can be acquired at these fine websites:

For further reading on the International Jetsetters, see here:


Anonymous said...

-grooooovy- :P

x said...

They remind me of all those pop influenced Raveonettes recordings but it sounds much more natural here. Very cool. Great job on this one, the review is more than detailed.