Tuesday, May 19, 2009

May 19: The Jesus And Mary Chain, "Psychocandy"

Artist: The Jesus And Mary Chain
Album: Psychocandy
Year: 1985
Label: Blanco Y Negro

Certain bands have a sound and impact that is so immeasurable, it often eclipses the band itself. While most of the time, these are some of the most well known bands in history, once in awhile, the band in questions stays relatively “underground.” These bands are usually ones who push musical boundaries well into “avant” territory, and make some of the most original sounds you’ll find anywhere. In what can only be described as a combination of Beach Boys harmonies, combined with Velvet Underground instrumentation, and the attitude of The Stooges, the sound of The Jesus And Mary Chain is truly like nothing else ever. Influencing bands from Dinosaur Jr. to Nine Inch Nails to more recent acts like My Bloody Valentine, the sound and style of The Jesus And Mary Chain remains fresh and breathtaking to this day. Releasing six brilliant records over their career, few are finer than their 1985 debut, the legendary Psychocandy.

The formula that The Jesus And Mary Chain use seems simply: take the harmonies of Brian Wilson, put in plenty of feedback and distortion, and turn it all up “to eleven.” However, it is the mood that is created by this combination that makes the music on Psychocandy so amazing. The band themselves produced the entire record, and it is perhaps this lack of outside influence that enabled the band to present such an amazing new sound. The only legitimate outside help on the record came from engineer John Loder, who would later go on to produce records for the likes of Fugazi, PJ Harvey, and Babes In Toyland, among others. Psychocandy was originally released on Rough Trade Records subsidiary, Blanco Y Negro (later home to Dinosaur Jr, Everything But The Girl, and The Veils), but the act was quickly picked up by Warner Bros. for distribution. The band remained with Blanco Y Negro as their primary release label until a one-off with SubPop in 1998, and is easily the most successful band that the label has ever seen.

With a base of echo-filled, airy tracks, musically, there is a consistent, dark, somewhat haunting mood throughout Psychocandy. It is this ability to create gloomy, melancholy moods, yet instill a pop-appeal to the songs that makes the music of The Jesus And Mary Chain so sensational. The band revolves around the guitar and vocal work of brothers Jim and William Reid. Writing all of the music and lyrics, the band had a number of different members, with the Reid brothers being the constant. The epitome of the magic in the bands musical fusion can be found in the song "My Little Underground." With a massive wall of crunching guitars in the background, the band overlays a smooth, sweet vocal track and the combination makes the song an unlikely candidate for the term "radio friendly." The band mostly sticks to this "aggressive music" with more relaxed vocals, yet at a handful of points on Psychocandy, the band pushes towards a “hardcore” or “thrash” sound, most notably on the song “In A Hole.”

While the content of the lyrics centers around the usual rock themes of girls, drugs, and general apathy, it is not so much "what" is being said, but moreso "how" the lyrics are delivered. The vocals, which aside from "It's So Hard," are delivered entirely by Jim Reid. With a strangely calming, yet undeniably intense voice, his singing is as equally as wistful as the music behind his vocals. Part Lou Reed, part Robert Smith, and part H.R. (from the Bad Brains), the voice of Jim Reid is nothing short of stunning, and absolutely perfect for the music created by The Jesus And Mary Chain. Weaving in and out of the musical textures, there are times when the vocals are incomprehensible, yet they still fit in beautifully with the earth-shattering backing music. At times, Reid almost comes off as almost "bored" with the singing, but a careful listen shows that it is simply the mood of the song that demands such lyrical presentation. This style of singing has been copied countless times since, and it is very much the inspiration behind the style of a majority of "goth" and "emo" singers.

The Jesus And Mary Chain remain a band that still have not received all of the credit they deserve for their contributions to the world of music. True musical pioneers, they released nothing but sensational albums throughout their fifteen year career. Taking equal parts of The Beach Boys, The Velevet Underground, and Black Sabbath, their eerie, dark moods somehow also had a wonderful pop feel simultaneously. Using earth-shaking, blasting guitars, and some of the most ethereal vocals ever recorded, The Jesus And Mary Chain remain unrivaled musically to this day. Impacting countless bands, and creating the groundwork for genres from "industrial" to "emo," the importance of the band cannot be overstated. On a personal note, there are only a handful of albums throughout my life that have "stopped me in my tracks." The Jesus And Mary Chain's 1985 debut, Psychocandy, happens to be one of these records, and it is an absolute essential for every music collection.

Standout tracks: "Just Like Honey," "Never Understand," and "Something's Wrong."

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