REVIEW: Life Without A Jacket – Use Your Words

Artist: Life Without A Jacket
Album: Use Your Words
Genre: Indie/Alternative
Label: [unsigned]

A fixed opinion is eluding me where this record is concerned. When I first listened, I was mostly perplexed, unable to figure out whether the vocals are meant to sound this insipid. I eventually decided they were just bad, and took a dislike to the entire EP. However, upon revisiting it, I’m undecided once more. There’s certainly a pleasing contrast between how alive and vigorous the music sounds – particularly the gruelling bass lines – and the bitter, almost malignant spite in the vocals, so perchance this is their way of diversifying their sound? It’s a thought-provoking set-up, though I’m not convinced it makes for the most rewarding release.

“The Lauded Fraud” brings in the irksome intonation straight away, with the music and vocals beginning in unison, simmering in bitterness and wrath. At this stage, the laconic venom in the singing makes sense, as the entire song seems wrapped in ill feeling. It’s determined, but resigned, with barely realised designs on a solo after the first chorus. Further, it remains quite basic throughout, the pounding bass line echoing the sharpness of the lyrics. A pained harmony makes a late entrance to add to this resounding sense of loss – it’s all quite vengeful, but in the most miserable and numbed way.

“Parks” opens in more or less the same manner – music and vocals crashing in at the same time, with a bass line heavy in the mix. This gives it a slightly more glamorous, darkened edge, and the vocals do vary themselves a bit here. They reach a little during the chorus, lifting things from the rather gloomy air pervading after the opening track, though the lyrical content remains as sullen as ever. There is a slight sense that they’re going through the motions, but it’s an able effort – more harmonies, glimmering in the mire, add a touch of sincerity to the rasping words. “Smut” is longer, and takes its time to make an impression. There’s a sense of adventure to the opening chords, differing starkly once again from the deadpan vocals. The lyrics continue to take merciless aim at an unnamed perpetrator, while the music veers from bristling and lucid during the chorus to a touch more indecisive for the verses. It has potential, but feels a lot longer than it is – the despondent posturing wearing thin on a longer running time.

“Tight Rope” has an almost sardonic (for want of a better word) sound to it, which suits the vocals better than on the other tracks – the music continues in a fairly simple formula, solemn guitars as a base, with hints at cheekiness here and there in a harmony or solo, and pockets of drum and bass. In many ways, these are all fundamentally the same song, though “Words” does at first seem to brood with all the ambition of a summer blockbuster. The vilifying is definitely becoming a bit old at this stage. “You have to make a choice, but my god, make a point,” muses the vocalist at one point – he’s made his point about nine times over by now. Nonetheless, the sense of anger is palpable, and this track brings in some shimmering backing vocals to render the feeling all the more emphatic.

Finally, decision made. It’s easy to mistake this for amateur, because it’s so informed by ill will and contempt and doesn’t really stray from same over the five songs at all. I’m eternally thankful they didn’t stretch this misery out over an LP, but the sound is deliberately vacuous and listless, founded on anger and disgust and kept resolutely grim to suit this. Instead of innovation, they have simple tracks with slight embellishments, preferring the feeling and words to speak as opposed to the music. A bold move perhaps, and one that might just as easily fail (as I said, the first listen did nothing for me), but if you take the time to listen properly and let this get under your skin it could leave a very definite mark.

SCORE: 7/10
Review written by: Grace Duffy

James Shotwell
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