Many of the prog-lovin’ folk I know on the intertubes have been talking about Jolly in positive terms. Comparisons I can remember include Porcupine Tree, Tool, Dream Theatre, Pink Floyd, even a bit of Oceansize… which is a pretty promising list of bands from where I’m sat.
After a few listens to The Audio Guide To Happiness (Part 1), I’d throw a bit of Faith No More into the comparative hat, too. But much as Jolly draw on the tones and techniques of all these bands (and more), the synthesis and transcendence that marks a real masterpiece seems to be missing. Which isn’t to impugn Jolly‘s instrument skills or songwriting, which are impeccable and ambitious in that order; on the contrary, I think my problem with The Audio Guide… is that they draw on so many influences that there’s little space left for a voice of their own. Heck, even the concept and structure of the album – it’s like, y’know, one of those self-help tapes, only not! – is so well worn that even an ironic deployment seems a little lazy.
(Interestingly enough, this is something I find myself feeling about new bands more and more often, which leads me to wonder whether it’s the inevitable result of digital music consumption habits (I have a music collection three orders of magnitude larger than I had when I was a teenage metalhead, for a start, and it’s much easier to do taste-test listens for free online than it ever was when we had to rely on peripatetic two-hour alternative slots on cable music channels) smashing into post-modern genre fragmentation (when genres become completely permeable, the only way to transcend the limitations of the genre narrative is to carve out your own). Or, put more simply: everything sounds familiar to something you’ve already heard, because you’ve already heard so many different things.)
The upside of lacking a coherent sound of their own is Jolly‘s fearless wanderings into unexpected sonic territories – hardly a new trick, but the big-band show-tune epicisms of “Pretty Darlin’” (a more aloof version of the gleefully manic spoofings of Diablo Swing Orchestra, perhaps?) are sufficiently unusual to make it one of the album’s most memorable tunes, even if it’s not one of the tunes I’m most fond of. The more traditionally prog-metallic tracks have all the clever structural shifts, galloping riffs, searing leads and soaring vocals you could ask for (plus tastefully restrained keyboard-and-samples work and a stadium-reverb production gloss), but slap-in-the-face moments of awesomeness are rare – the bits that make you sit up and pay attention to a new record. I’m diverted by The Audio Guide To Happiness, but I’m not converted by it, y’know?
Right. But hey, credit where credit’s due – while stand-out peaks of excellence are rare, Jolly‘s tunes are consistently good all through, and that’s no mean achievement. Definitely worth a listen, unless you’ve decamped to Planet Djent on a permanent basis. Send us a postcard, will you?