Birmingham trio JAWS embark on an attempt to recreate the mood of our times – alienated, worried but hopeful, detached but grappling with intense feelings – through music in their third studio album, The Ceiling.
It is a deeply moody work, held together by a syncopated use of the rhythm section and a floaty, disembodied feeling achieved through distortion and echoes. The cure put into the treatment of vocals is particularly remarkable, as vocalist Connor Schofield switches smoothly from dreamy and distant to rough and throaty, with a surprising almost-grunge edge coming through here and there. This versatility is both unusual and welcome, and it introduces an element of variety to the ten tracks in the album, a number of which follow roughly the same structure – an airy instrumental hook with the rhythm section coming in to create contrast at a second time. Backing vocals are also used in a very effective way – the little echoing choirs underlining some of the lyrics are among the most interesting bits of sound in the album. The lyrics are a perfect counterpart to the slightly anxious dreaminess of the sound (suspended, one might say, on the edge of nightmare, like those dreams we all make that leave us shaken without knowing exactly why): “I’m scared my days are numbered […] I’ve got nothing to fear,” Schofield sings in ‘Fear,’ capturing that mood on the edge of anxiety that is so familiar to our daily lives these days. The mood is reflected in the vaguely new-age suggestions incorporated in the album, twisted to become something quite different, just as immersive but not always as soothing.
At its best, the album sounds like something that might have come out of the soundtrack to the latest season of Twin Peaks; this is the case, for instance, with ‘Looking/Passing,’ which maintains a mildly perturbing mood to it while being a perfect example of a case where the contrast between different vocal lines is used cleverly to achieve something that has a very distinctive voice. Other tracks, also among the best in the record, have a hint of something to them that David Bowie and Brian Eno would very much have liked around the later years of the ’70s, like ‘End of the World‘ – perhaps my favourite, and the longest song in the album – and ‘Do You Remember,’ which is also a perfect example of the degree of versatility the lead guitar can show; here it is surprisingly rougher, with some suggestions coming through that are almost hard rock in places.
Other tracks, while sticking more closely to a structure that the band appears to favour, also introduce moments of great inventiveness, contributing to the building of a very personal voice: one of my favourite cases of this is ‘Patience,’ where an opening almost reminiscent of a tin whistle, and almost classical in sound, is joined by a pulsating bass line. This track has somewhat of a disco mood to it, and that’s another recurring theme in the album; ‘Feel,’ perhaps the one song in the record to have a truly pop vibe (and in many ways the weakest in a list of very interesting songs, sounding oddly standard-pop at times), evokes a late-night summer disco vibe. Title track ‘The Ceiling‘ and single ‘Driving at Night‘ veer more towards rock suggestions rather than pop ones, and have a sharper sound that plays well around the potential of both the bass and the vocal. The use of surprising, effective distortions occurs frequently throughout; it’s one of the distinctive fingerprints of this band and it’s used with confidence and in the right places.
Overall it’s a very immersive record, which demands the attention of its listener and which has the potential to have quite the impact live – it’s not hard to imagine a live audience being completely drawn into the music with this one. There is still some room to push the very interesting ideas emerging here a bit further; getting past the pop chords when they become too intrusive, allowing the vocals and rhythm section to express their full potential. Nevertheless, The Ceiling remains a work that speaks of familiar things in a distinctive and sometimes disturbing voice.
JAWS’ new album, The Ceiling is available to purchase here.
JAWS are playing a tour in April, following the release of the album:
23/04 – King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, Glasgow
25/04 – The Electric Ballroom, London
26/04 – O2 Ritz, Manchester
27/04 – O2 Institute, Birmingham