Music Review: JJAMZ – Suicide Pact (2012)
Music Review: JJAMZ – Suicide Pact (2012) ◊ By Mark Jensen ◊ If you’ve never heard of the rock band JJAMZ, you’re not alone. Along with their still relatively unknown public status is JJAMZ relatively obscure, if not confusing, moniker. Forget easily pronounced and understood band names like “The Like,” “Maroon 5,” “Bright Eyes” or […]
Music Review: JJAMZ – Suicide Pact (2012) ◊
By Mark Jensen ◊
If you’ve never heard of the rock band JJAMZ, you’re not alone. Along with their still relatively unknown public status is JJAMZ relatively obscure, if not confusing, moniker.
Forget easily pronounced and understood band names like “The Like,” “Maroon 5,” “Bright Eyes” or “Phantom Planet,” all of which served as stomping grounds for the five band mates prior to their JJAMZ gig. (And for the record let’s not leave out the awesome but now defunct band “Rilo Kiley” as a part of the band’s former rock credits.) JJAMZ is a quasi alt-pop rock supergroup who’s name is just as obscure as the band’s still small but growing fan base. Named for the first letter of each of the five band members’ names, JJAMZ recently posted a video on YouTube explaining just how to correctly pronounce their name. Now, you tell me, how often does a band devote a video to band name pronunciation? Try never – that’s how often.
I stumbled onto JJAMZ thanks to a “free song download of the day” via the Google Play Store. Even though I’m very much a fan of Bright Eyes, Rilo Kiley, The Like and Phantom Planet, six months after their debut album release, I’d still never heard of JJAMZ. The free song download “Heartbeat” was good enough that I immediately went to my subscription music service Rhapsody to hear the rest of JJAMZ music. The free tune Heartbeat was a good, electronic, base-beat-driven pop song, but the rest of JJAMZ Suicide Pact was better than good. Suicide Pact (the album) was pop-rock candy bliss.
Back for a minute to not knowing JJAMZ was made up of bands I was very familiar with, I immediately and correctly ascribed their sound to a kind of alternative pop-rock-electronic version of the all-girl rock band The Like. The Like, in case you didn’t know, was a band that exhibited signs of greatness, mostly due to lead singer Z Berg and her unmistakable lush pop vocals, but never fulfilled the promise of their 2005 debut. Before knowing better, for the first few days I played JJAMZ for some friends, describing them as a really jamming pop-punk version of The Like – only to find out days later that JJAMZ and The Like had singer Z Berg’s signature Blondie-esque rock vocals in common. Throw in the male vocals and guitar of Phantom Planet front-man Alex Greenwald, formidable Bright Eyes and Rilo Kiley drummer Jason Bosel, and Maroon 5′s lead guitarist James Valentine and it’s no wonder JJAMZ hit me with such a solid alt-pop punch.
JJAMZ… a west coast version of Blondie.
JJAMZ describes themselves as a “west coast version of Blondie.” After multiple plays over the past month I’d say that JJAMZ self-described Blondie meets the west coast reference is apropos.
The 10 song debut album is a solid, almost stellar mix of well-crafted alternative pop rock. I was so glad to hear singer Z Berg’s signature-worthy voice again that I’m admittedly not much of an impartial judge of just how good Suicide Pact might play to the uninitiated. That said, the album according to my count, features three superb alt-rock pop tunes worthy of heavy airplay on modern rock stations, a handful of really good album cuts and three down-tempo slow jams, making for ten very well-written and tightly delivered rock tunes.
In particular, the title track, Suicide Pact, is about as good as almost-danceable, hook-laden pop rock gets. The lyrics, “You turned your back on the suicide pact and left me dancing with the dead,” delivered with bouncy pop guitar riffs makes the title track’s obsession with death seem like a happy place. Other standouts are the very Blonde-like, Square One and Never Enough. In her former life fronting the band The Like, lead singer Z Berg’s voice was often better than the material – not so here. Berg’s lush pop vocals have found a home among what might be some of indie rock’s best writers and musicians.
Phantom Planet front-man and guitarist, Alex Greenwald, sings duet style with Berg on LAX, which is another bouncy rock tune that celebrates the whimsical sights and sounds of the band’s So-Cal roots. The rest of the album is all very good with no real “filler” songs. The work of Maroon 5 lead guitarist, James Valentine, and Bright Eyes/Rilo Kiley drummer, Jason Boesel, are also both notable musical highlights of Suicide Pact.
JJAMZ and their debut Suicide Pact have been fairly well received by critics (Spin Magazine 6/10 and AllMusic 3.5/5, for example), but have so far seen limited tour dates along with just one high-profile appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, making the band’s “indie” label fitting but undeserved. Airplay for any of the album’s first single (Heartbeat) or potential singles (Suicide Pact, Never Enough or Square One), so far has been sparse, making me hope that JJAMZ’s Suicide Pact isn’t a one-off effort by one of our favorite new indie pop-rock acts.
We give JJAMZ debut album Suicide Pact a very strong 7.5 out of 10 rating and recommend you give this great band some airtime in the space between your ears.
Released: July 10, 2012, Dangerbird Records