Hailing from Brooklyn, the experimental and chirpy JOBS has been slowly building word of mouth over the last few years, and on their third album endless birthdays, they finally capitalise on a sound that works for them, albeit not throughout the entire album. While stylistically similar to their previous output, endless birthdays is notable for the guest appearances from Steven Lugerner, Deerhoof’s John Dieterich and Skeletons’ Matt Mehlan and Cyrus Pireh.
JOBS is a band full of talented and likeable people making music that is both adventurous and not easily classifiable. At their best they can touch on a nice blend of weirdo-exploratory impulses, but most of the time JOBS lacks structure and refined production. To be clear, the music on endless birthdays does sound well-made and well thought-out, even when the band is trying its hardest not to sound that way, but studio craftsmanship and musical prowess aren’t enough to weigh down this album’s loftier excesses.
There are plenty of experimental artists in the newly democratised musical economy – certainly more with a platform than ever before – but what constitutes experimental music today, will undoubtedly sound tame in comparison to the music of the next generation. Animal Collective, Dirty Projectors and The Books already sound charming and humbled compared to the 100 gecs and SOHPIEs of the current generation. JOBS tends towards the latter, clearly influenced by the former but attempting to distance themselves from the rhythmic, pop inflections that make those artists more palatable.
Like Dan Deacon, JOBS are the most compelling when they’re at their most focused. The two stand-out tracks “Opulent Fields” and “Words About Shapes” present a quirky and self-serious band fixated on suppressing their eccentricities enough to appease to the general public. Expectedly, these two tracks make up the heart of the album as diamonds in the rough.
That balancing act is what makes JOBS compelling; working well within their experimental and pop tendencies to craft something greater than the sum of its parts. It’s what makes the rest of endless birthdays so frustrating, to see the band gracefully restrain their worst impulses at its brightest moments, only to fall back into bad habits at its worst.
Take the opening track “A Toast”. While interestingly subversive, it lacks any momentum, presenting plenty of pinging and plucking from its synthesizers but without the substantive lyrics or heft of some of the later songs. Buried in the mix is a nice guitar line that if brought upfront could give the track a harder edge, raise the stakes and hold together all the extraneous instrumentals.
A similar issue creeps up on “Self Replicating No. 3”, a meandering, glitchy extended interlude that along with “Self Replicating No. 2” provides a short interspersed palette cleanser between the stronger tracks. Although their mantric vocals and anxious percussion proves interesting, they lack enough substance to become as memorable as the songs they bookend. The bulk of the album falls between those two extremes, either offering composed, eclectic art rock or full-fledged experimental glut. The guest musicians here offer some nice moments, whether it be Lugerner’s other-worldly saxophone on “Planned Humans” or Dietrich’s all too brief guitar solo on “Striped Cotton Blanket”, but while the assistance is captivating, it’s not enough to make them highlights.
endless birthdays is a flawed album, but one that is nonetheless an improvement over their previous work. According to the band, when recording the album, the songs produced were twice as long, taking specific inspiration from the drawn out avant-garde of late career Miles Davis records. That improvisation is prevalent on the rest of these tracks, providing the chaotic and distorted explorations JOBS are known for, but on those glimmers of restraint the band proves their ingenuity. Both “Opulent Fields” and “Words About Shapes” are promising instances of surprising insight and mark the best tracks JOBS have released up until this point. Whereas the rest of the album remains uncompromising in its pursuit of originality, the band is strongest when it colours between the lines and in the process, changes the subject entirely.