Jump For Neon bolted out of the gates in 2017 with a battle-worn, self-titled, debut album that was drenched in feedback, submerged in gnarly distortion and pock-marked to the core thanks to a deluge of psychedelic effects and sonic blasts. It sounded like someone threw Black Rebel Motorcycle Club down a stainless steel mineshaft – along with some ACNE TNT sticks for good measure – and recorded the results. And, hell, it was a damn fine record too. Full of sound, fury, funnies and fretwork.
Band-leader and chief songwriter William Gray has apparently thrown his bag of distortion pedals out the window for the band’s Difficult-Second-Album (along with his wardrobe of beer-stained plaid-shirts and leather whips, I imagine), but his way with a melody and his uncanny ability to create a unique listening experience is, I’m happy to report, still firmly in his bloody-minded grasp.
Put Me Down Dinosaur (nice title) is as hard-hitting as its predecessor but in a completely different way; while Jump For Neon bludgeons you to death with a crudely modified 4×4, Put Me Down Dinosaur sends you packing with a dead-eyed smile and a whisper. Indeed, if I may expand on the torture analogy, JFN is the guillotine to PMDD’s water-board; both methods get the job done, but opt for opposing methods.
More polished, restrained and mature than JFN, PMDD opens with “Somewhere Else”, a song that hangs snugly around a Kurt Vile-esque chord progression before a Grandaddy-style swoosh opens the door for Gray’s insistence that it’s “time to go somewhere else”. Based in China, one wonders whilst listening if expat life is starting to tick Gray off a tad – or maybe he’s just itching to go on a nice, long holiday. Either way, the discontentment you can feel in the vocal delivery and in the song’s lyrics continues throughout much of the album. The ominous and claustrophobic sounding “All We Really Have Is The Night” hinges on a cyclical chord swirl and an eerie keyboard line that reinforces the lyrics’ sense of futility and frustration. “I don’t care about wrong and right, that’s so last century, what’s it gonna do for me?” questions a disillusioned Gray. Like a dream, the song dissolves into a vacuum of digital echo when you try and give it a second look.
In the epic “Baggage”, Gray gives perhaps his best vocal performance to date, slipping into falsetto effortlessly and doubling his emotional lead vocal with a tight and beautiful harmony. The music is kept simple and steady whilst Gray’s vocal soars above the simple acoustic guitar and bass backing. Adding to the sense of drama are the subtle electronics that fizz and crackle in the background, adding colour to the piece without ever taking over and crashing the (anti)party. In fact, this subtlety is a cornerstone of the whole album – as are Gray’s excellent, and at times, striking original vocals.
In the woozy, Basement Tapes-y “Miss America” JFN takes pot-shots at the US of A, in typically droll fashion, before settling into a sequence of vocal lines that make Gray sound like Thom Yorke played 40 bpms slower than ever intended (in a good way). Similarly stripped-back is “Rabbit Hole” a song that underlines the album’s themes of isolation, doubt and insecurity. “I wear this suit of armour daily but yet I feel like I have nothing on” croons Gray, as an electronic beat and more fleeting atmospherics power the song to the bottom of the proverbial rabbit hole and its falsetto-laced conclusion.
Shades of Springsteen and Brandon Flowers on beta-blockers spring to mind (pun intended) on “Solace”, a track submerged by thick clouds of paranoid vapour, fake news, rumour, environmental concerns and mistrust in religion. Gray is all at sea amidst the madness, searching in vain for some sweet solace; “I don’t even want to feel, I’m afraid that if it cuts me I won’t heal” Gray opines. The track’s sparse backing once again puts Gray’s voice and lyrics front and centre, as does the gentle, and charmingly self-deprecating “Can’t Say No”. Listening to PMDD feels at times like you’re sitting opposite Gray as he reclines on a comfy leather chaise-lounge, spilling his guts and opening his heart – as you look on, mouth agape.
Some respite comes in the form of album closer “Suzie”, a lighter track that feels like an exercise in escapism as medicine. Built around a fuzzy drum loop (as many of the tracks on this LP are) the song’s coda is all flanger and flying falsettos, but try as it might to break through the funk that came before – and to jump for that ever-glowing, distant neon – the overall impression one gets from PMDD is one of emotional vulnerability, musical simplicity and gut-wrenching lyrical honesty. In the final analysis, If JFN was a guitar-player’s album, then this is an album for singers, as Gray puts his vocals high in the mix and bares his soul for all to hear.
‘Put Me Down Dinosaur’ is out now on Medic Independent Records.