For the band Jookabox, the east side of Indianapolis is a dark place, populated by roaming bands of vampires, the Dead Zone Boys, who aren't nearly as pretty or harmless as those abstinent Mormons of Twilight
fame. On one shoulder, are the phantoms, beckoning our unstable hero towards evil - the album opens with two desperate, compulsive tracks, "Phantom Don't Go" and "Don't Go Phantom." And perched on the other side, a tent revivalist, shouting just as loudly, though not quite as compellingly, about the redeeming power of the Holy Spirit.
This fight between good and evil is staged in a world with plenty of reverb, spooky vocals, dirty drumbeats, vintage synths, sped-up and slowed-down vocals. The approach to storytelling bears resemblance to Romero's "Dead" series; the album uses vampires and monsters to make a somewhat broader point about good, evil and urban alienation, but doesn't get too sophisticated or allegorical about it.
This is the third album recorded by some version of Jookabox; the first two, 2008's Ropechain
and 2007's Scientific Cricket
, were both released under the name Grampall Jookabox, which was foreshortened earlier this year, and were almost entirely recorded in bedroom and basement studios by bandleader and songwriter David "Moose" Adamson. Adamson was joined by drummer Patrick Okerson for Dead Zone Boys
, and while the two may have headed to San Diego to record some of the album professionally, that doesn't make the results sound any less low-fi, any less like a mysterious, found R&B cassette recorded in the mid-'80s. Still, the album's fuzzy sound is more substantial than Ropechain's
- it's well mixed, with plenty of the low end on the "You Put A Spell On Me"-esque R&B ballad "Evil Guh" and just as much tinniness from vintage-sounding synths and Chipmunk falsettos.
Characteristic of Jookabox's work is a kind of street poetry, rough-hewn, blunt, repetitive, yelled somewhat crazily or in multi-tracks. The speaker is at times conflicted - "I've been touched by water holy, my mother says it's so / And I want to give the light the glory, but now I can't let go" - at other times, just out for blood - "I'll take you down girl, I'll bite your neck."
Adamson's use of multi-tracking and loops is reminiscent of Zappa or Ween in its playfulness; he slows his voice down to create a creepy feel, speeds it way up to give energy to the fast-paced "You Cried Me," the album's breezy, potential hit single that has Adamson back on the acoustic guitar that dominated his first record . "Glyphin' Out" sounds a bit like an XTC demo, and shows that Adamson can work catchy harmonies when he feels so inclined; it's one of several fully-fledged songs from a performer that often works in fragments.
The album loses focus after the seventh track, as a sincere, warped, homespun exploration of the dark side descends into juvenile chants and goofy screaming. But, all is not lost, because the album's closing track, "F. I. T. F #1" is an irresistible listen, not only for its WTF chorus, but also because Adamson usually knows just how much distortion and weirdness to throw onto a track to make it sound strange but not overly fussy.
One note: Okerson and Adamson recorded the majority of the album on their lonesome, but two members, Benny Sanders on bass and Lisa Berlin on keyboards, joined this summer and are part of the full-band Jookabox lineup that's touring behind the album.