Jonquil – Point Of Go
Released: 05/03/2012 on Blessingforce
One of the many bands to emerge in recent years from Oxford's thriving indie scene, Jonquil first introduced us to their special brand of 'tropical pop' back in 2006. Their first handful of EPs and albums failed to make any noticeable impact, but the sweet calyp-pop rhythms combined with frontman Hugo Manuel's atmospheric vocals meant that songs such as 'It Never Rains' and 'I Know I Don't Know' firmly lodged themselves into listeners ears – and hearts. Since then, the band have lost three members, gained another one, and have now returned with an album designed to grab the band a slice of the musical pie currently being hogged by fellow Oxford musos Foals and Young Knives.
Unfortunately for Jonquil, they appear to be so focused on carving out a niche for themselves that they fail to actually produce anything that seems truly revolutionary. Interesting, yes. Polished, most definitely. But it's the aural equivalent of Oxford itself – cerebral, attractive, well presented – but without the swagger of Manchester, the edginess of Liverpool or the diversity of London. Songs such as 'Real Cold', 'Mexico' and 'Swell' are all perfectly lovely, but you wouldn't want to live in them (you know what I mean).
The band do however have moments where they show flashes of, while not quite genius, certainly something akin to brilliance. 'Getaway' starts simply enough, but gradually layers instrument upon instrument, melody upon melody, til a final blast of guitar lifts the song to a whole other level before stripping back down again as Manuel wails “Got to get away” to the fade. Likewise, 'It's My Part' sees the band fully embracing the tropical; guitars distorted to sound like steel drums, a calypso beat providing a jaunty accompaniment, evoking a longing to be dancing on a beach somewhere, the sand tickling between your toes.
Of course, the saving grace of any Jonquil track is always going to be Manuel's vocals. Manuel himself is strong enough to carry a song alone, as witnessed on solo side project Chad Valley. His vocals are curiously lacking in emotion at times, yet are so effortlessly beautiful that they at once allow the listener tap into the very soul of a track while also blending seamlessly into the background. This is best highlighted on one of the more unusual tracks 'This Innocent', a slowed down ballad with no ostensible structure save for the increasing urgency of Manuel's desolate refrain: “I'm never gonna be this innocent now”.
Despite these positive points, the main problem with that album remains that it is so wholly and completely inoffensive. A strange criticism to be making, perhaps, but rarely is it a good thing when an album is so pleasant that it fades into the the background. The band do have a fairly distinctive sound – the problem is that there is very little to actually to differentiate each track from the last. There's no hook catchy enough to fully embed itself into your brain, no rhythm spunky enough to cause a stampede to hit the dancefloor in any indie club. To use internet-speak, it's all a little too 'meh'. I'd much rather listen to an album that challenged me, dared me, to like it any day, than one that metaphorically spread it's legs on the first listen. But maybe that's just me.
Turn On: It's My Part, This Innocent, Getaway
Turn Off: Run, Point of Go Pt 2