Jet Black Crayon – Inaccuracies of the Mind Machine

Jet Black Crayon
Inaccuracies of the Mind Machine

There is a unique challenge to making instrumental rock music: it has to sound like it’s supposed to be instrumental. Rock music has always pined for personality, for someone to lay to words and ideas the kind of youth, religion, and humor that everyone seeks when they sign up. Not all genres are like this, though. In jazz, for instance, vocalists are the exception, and when a band lays down a smooth, soulful tune, it sounds natural. When all a rock band does is play chords and drone, it sounds like someone forgot to throw up the Guitar Center ad for the vocalist. It just feels like something’s missing.

This is becoming more of a problem in the indie and electronic underground. Groups like Boards of Canada and Mogwai have succeeded in making beautiful, affecting music without the use of vocals (yeah, I know, Mogwai mumbles sometimes, but they didn’t in the early days). Many of their followers, however, have not: hacks have turned Mogwai into a distorted power chords, and beatheads have reworked Boards’ formula into something that resembles trip-hop without the vocals.

And that’s just the point: Too often, “instrumental” bands on the indie scene simply feel like the vocalist is MIA. It is therefore the burden of the band to come up with creative ways to express their ideas and feelings without the aid of language.

Fortunately, Jet Black Crayon’s first full-length, Inaccuracies of the Mind Machine, effectively clears the first hurdle of instrumental music. Never does it devolve to the point of plain old rock instrumentation. In fact, just exactly what it is is mostly unclear: Jet Black Crayon dabbles in so many musical styles (cliché alert! Bear with me here) that it’s the first instrumental indie album in some time that I can’t immediately lump into either the IDM or post-rock bin.

Certainly, there are traces of both the aforementioned genres. Swinging, hip-hop beats carry the uptempo moments, and JBC does occasionally lapse into Mogwai’s arpeggiated duress (“Eyes Closed, Numbers Appear”). For the most part, though, styles are jumped laudibly. Placid, simple acoustic guitar lines sit on top of mounds of keyboards. Not far away, a skittering electronic beat is mingling with a lazy bassline. Somewhere one block over there are some synthesized horns shouting over the rooftops. This isn’t groundbreaking stuff, but it’s all very compelling. Rapid shifts in style inside individual songs give JBC’s work a feel of restlessness and animation that too many “cinematic” instrumental bands lack.

If JBC does have one fault, it’s sameness – after three or four tracks, you’ll know the drill, even if the drill is sporadic and somewhat captivating. If Inaccuracies of the Mind Machine has one true fault, it’s that it never really has that “it” moment that keeps listeners hitting the back button on their iPod in amazement. In the end, this album hints at things much greater than it delivers, but it’s not a bad deal on its own. It’s the first instrumental album in months that doesn’t sound like mopey post-rock or druggy electronica. For that alone, JBC should be commended. The fact that Inaccuracies of the Mind Machine is filled with enticing, shape-shifting compositions makes it worthy of a listen.