The Jim Yoshii Pile-Up – Homemade Drugs

The Jim Yoshii Pile-Up
Homemade Drugs

As a follow-up to last year’s lush and epic-sounding It’s Winter here, Homemade Drugs shows this Oakland five-piece moving in a new direction. Gone are the lush, layered atmospherics that drew similarities to Mogwai and Radiohead, although hints are still found below the surface. Instead, the Jim Yoshii Pile-Up (named for a friend of the band) go for a more moody pop-based sound, and while I miss the feel of their debut, Homemade Drugs is yet another stellar work.
In some ways, the new sound of the Jim Yoshii Pile-Up reminds me of early emo bands like Mineral, because the three guitarists combine to make very melodic, very beautiful notes while still able to produce driving, urgent chords. These songs don’t rock, though – at least, not in the intense post-hardcore way of early emo. Rather, they possess a moody melancholy, as if the band playing them are lost in their own desperation. That’s highly possible, for the lyrics of frontman Paul Gonzenbach speak of loss (one member’s brother nearly died while the album was being made), frustration, and growth.
The band opens heavy and moody on “In Focus,” cascading drums and guitars driving the song before allowing it to settle back in subtle, melodic guitars and thick bass. By contrast, the lighter, more airy “Distance” has shimmering keyboards, a light beat, and fantastic, swirling guitars that provide a nice background to Gonzenbach’s voice. “A Deep Deep Lake” rocks harder than any of the band’s songs yet, with an upbeat rhythm and discordant yet powerful guitar chords. And it works nicely with the driving yet emotionally moving “Double Negative.”
The band’s quieter moments are stark in their simplicity, like the piano-led “Middle Harbor Road” that allows Gonzenbach’s voice to take its wistful center stage. “It’s ok, I was joking / didn’t really mean it anyway,” he sings longingly as if begging for an apology in the mellow opening of “Haunted Rooms,” as the soft brush of cymbals and bass take over the song, providing a haunting quality to match the title. And on the closer, “Lines Drawn,” his voice is barely more than a whisper over melodic guitar and subtle bass.
While the lushness of It’s Winter Here may make that album my favorite of the band’s two releases, Homemade Drugs definitely shows a more mature, more focused band. These songs are extremely tight, very well produced, and rich and varied enough to make the whole album required listening from beginning to end. Despite their unusual moniker, the Jim Yoshii Pile-Up deserves to be a household name.