Click to hear: “Boxcutter”
The Portland indie-rock supergroup Endless Jags released their first full-length, Sell the Banquet, earlier this summer, and the verdict is finally in: it’s pretty damn good.
If that sounds like damning with faint praise, it’s only because the sextet’s debut EP of 2012 was so promising that my expectations were sky high. Fronted by singer-guitarists Oscar Romero (Astronautalis, Gully) and Foam Castles creator Tyler Jackson, with Brenda/Foam Castles drummer D.J. Moore on keys, percussion and occasional guitar, Gully drummer Jonas Eule behind the kit, a third guitarist (Derek Glerhan) and bassist Justin Brady, this group’s got enough talent to rock a battleship. Their eponymous six-song release offered a distinctive mix of ’60s garage rock, bash-and-crash punk, and nervy indie-pop. The anthemic “Sound Drivers,” sung by Romero, is one of the best songs I’ve ever heard in my freakin’ life.
On Banquet, the band throws down the Right Bower right away. Opener “Boxcutter” is another great Romero number. It shuffles in with an easy beat and soon floors you with a killer chorus (“Everyone’s stoned in my house!”), gets loud, gets wrinkled, and sneaks out on cats’ feet. I eagerly listened to the next nine songs hoping to hear its equal. But that never happened.
Romero’s other contributions, like “Ready to Die” and “Seersucker,” are really good, but can’t reach the bar set by the first song. Jackson seems to have saved his best material for Foam Castles’ fantastic new album, Through That Door, which came out a few weeks before Banquet. He brought some good stuff to the table for this project (“Fifty Grand” is a standout), but other tracks he sings on sound like Foam Castles B-sides.
The recording sessions for Banquet were a mix of aggression and ecstasy (the sensation and the stuff). Like so many other great rock bandmates (Ray and Dave Davies come to mind), Romero and Eule can be notorious antagonists, especially after more than a few beers. That tension fuels the louder material, like the pounding “Surfer” and the snarling six-minute closer, “Hexer.” But Banquet sags in the middle. On Jackson tracks “The Great Resister” and “Next Summer on the Ice,” as well as the spacey hallucination of “The Loop,” the band seems entranced by its own thick, swirling clouds of sound, to the detriment of the songs themselves.
That said, Banquet is still a fine feast. Perhaps it’s best to take Stephen Malkmus’ advice, delivered at the end of Watery, Domestic, the EP Pavement released on the heels of their breakthrough album, Slanted and Enchanted — “Don’t expect, don’t expect, don’t expect, don’t expect…”
— Chris Busby
Endless Jags plays Port City Music Hall on Wed., Sept. 10, as one of three acts opening for Astronautalis.