Jets Overhead are almost as interesting for some of their ideological positions about music and its dissemination as they are for the quality of their sophomore LP, No Nations. Jets Overhead’s debut full length and an earlier EP are available for “voluntary purchase” on their website; the page explains that “new systems for distributing music should be driven by the public rather than by existing paradigms which no longer apply to the digital world” and, until the record industry adapts, they’d ask that you pay for the stuff you download voluntarily. You can snag it for free and pay for it later if you decide it’s worth it. (Radiohead followed a similar model on In Rainbows to much public bally-hoo, although these folks were ahead of the curve.) The record up for discussion today, No Nations, will not be on the voluntary purchasing program, but the band will be releasing instrumentals and other album elements through the Creative Commons project. All of this is fascinating. Rather than idly bitch (like me) or sue folks who are looking for some alternate method of interacting with the market, Jets Overhead are taking concrete steps to improve the industry. They acknowledge that music should be paid for (rightly so, by the way), but also acknowledge that we need new ways to do that. Voluntary purchase and the Creative Commons project are innovative means to finding new answers to the distribution question. This record could be awful and I’d still give Jets Overhead kudos for addressing a serious issue in a serious fashion. (First beer’s on me net time you’re in Cleveland.)
Happily, the record itself is a long way from awful. The Canadian quintet has put together a collection of straight ahead rock songs that work in a variety of tones and moods while maintaining a unified artistic vision. The principal thing that catches the ear on the initial listen are the stellar co-ed vocals; several songs feature the lilting, angelic vocals of Antonia Freybe-Smith, which are often juxtaposed with the throatier pipes of Adam Kittredge. It’s not the same kind of borderline-twee harmonizing you get on, say, at She & Him track, but more of a muscular pairing of two distinct voices. The harmonies (and the single voices when they’re presented alone) are less the anchor of the songs and more of another instrument at the bands disposal. Songs like “Fully Shed,” one of the album’s highlights, have a distinctly anthemic feel that’s only bolstered by the interplay of the male and female vocals. It’s a trick that’s difficult to pull off; when this kind of thing isn’t executed well, you either wind up sounding like a pale imitation of the Mamas and the Papas or a parody of a bad hair metal band. Jets Overhead have the chops and the moxie to make the sound their own and it completely works. While the vocal interplay is the thing that sticks with you on the first spin, it starts to blend in a bit on further listens, becoming more of an integral part than the pivotal focus. There’s a lot going on sonically on the record and those things start to jump out once the ear acclimates to the vocals.
When Jets Overhead turn the amps up, things get pretty exciting. The album’s conclusion, “Tired of the Comfort” wouldn’t sound out of place on a classic rock station; it’s six minutes of thumping bass, evil piano lines, intertwining, arena-ready vocals and thunderous percussion, all of which are stellar. The album’s opening track, “I Should Be Born,” works in much the same vein, layering crunchy guitars over a pervasive, gritty bass line. While those two tracks are about energy and attitude, much of the record works in a more contemplative tone; songs like “Always a First Time” tone things way down to deliver a more emotion and less viscera. For the most part, the album’s opener and closer serve as thunderous bookends to a mellower middle section. This shifting mood is a good thing, in that it shows that Jets Overhead have a bit of range. Too much of the rockers could get a touch repetitive; too much of the mellower cuts could get a tad boring. No Nations has a solid balance of fist pumping and navel gazing, resulting in a strangely consistent listening experience. They’re doing different things across the album, but none so wildly unexpected that they’re jarring.
No Nations will be available in the United States on June 23. Given that Jets Overhead have recorded a solid and entertaining record that taps into a lot of classic ideas and manipulates them shrewdly, while pushing for intelligent reforms to the record industry, it’s an album that is worth your attention. In the meantime, enjoy the titular track below.