Sometimes bands themselves sum up their sound the best. On Whistle Jacket’s MySpace page, they say their music sounds like “jokes without punchlines.” That may not sound appealing, but it says to me that this is a fun band that doesn’t take itself too seriously. You can take two approaches to making pop music: create something Serious and Meaningful, or just have fun and write catchy songs. Invariably, the latter is better.
On the band’s third full-length album (and eighth incarnation, with Michael Leyden being the defining frontman throughout), Whistle Jacket offers nine quirky and playful pop songs with a decidedly retro feel. And, in fact, there’s also a decidedly sloppy feel, which is off-putting at first but surprisingly effective on further listens. Those extra listens are needed, too, to get past Leyden’s nasally voice, which ends up being quite charming once you get used to it.
That being said, a good pop album should not require multiple listens. It should reach out and grab you right away, and although some songs are noticeably strong on first listen, this is a pop album that gets better with repeated listens – only to a point. It’s still sloppy and quirky, and you probably won’t be singing these tracks a half hour later. But it’s still an enjoyable stay.
For most of these songs, Leyden’s vocals are mixed far enough back in the music to sound as if, perhaps, the album was recorded on one track with the whole band playing in the room. With sparse electric guitar, the effect is a kind of retro guitar-pop style reminiscent of bouncy mid-70’s pop.
My favorite song is the most cohesive and pretty, the mellow “Hey Kid.” I’m simultaneously reminded of the Beatles and Built to Spill, as strummed electric guitar nicely compliments chiming piano, and Leyden’s voice really hits its stride (and the right notes). This one would sound nice on a mix CD if you are looking for something pleasantly different.
Most songs are catchy little numbers, such as the strong opener, “Say Hello” and the suitably catchy and almost sweet “Whistle Jacket Theme Song.” Some of the songs are just silly. “Skip and Jump” is almost a children’s song, with its sparse instrumentation and chorus of “It’s a skip and a jump / let your heart go thump thump thump.” “Knife Fight” is a playful little romp with what sounds like children singing in the background. You’ll be bobbing your head and singing along even to silly lyrics like, “This is a knife fight / so put down your first. / This is a knife fight / and I never miss.”
Whistle Jacket says that, for a limited time, you can get a free copy of SSS&J by just e-mailing your address to firstname.lastname@example.org. That seems awfully generous of them! I recommend you take them up on it, because we all need an infusion of pop music in our lives!