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The Jai-Alai Savant
The Jai-Alai Savant
Thunderstatement
Gold Standard Laboratories


Format Reviewed: CD

Soundclip: "Thunderstatement"

Buy me now
This Chicago three-piece can remember a time when blending reggae with rock music yielded soulful and rhythmic rock -- not ska. It might seem like we're splitting hairs, but you need look no further than the gap between The Clash and, oh, let's say Reel Big Fish to remember that the same ingredients used to make a delicious meatball marinara can be turned into chili mac. The blend on Thunderstatement is rich and powerful, producing as strong a debut EP as a band could hope for. The rock is angular and fuzzy; the reggae is one-drop and in the pocket. The two components coexist without ever mutating into glossy, soulless third wave pop.

The Jai-Alai Savant's formula isn't entirely unlike the one that fueled The Police's early career. Singer/guitarist Ralph Darden's voice is rawer and more soulful than Sting's, but like Sting, Darden is never afraid to push his melancholy wails into registers well out of his range. These bursts of high notes, most notably encountered in "Scarlett Johansson, Why Don't You Love me?", are bold, invigorating displays of imperfection that capture reggae's grime and punk's chaos in a single colorful snapshot.

The band's rhythm section -- bassist Mike Ali and drummer Jeremy Gowertz -- also does an amazing job of finding the overlap between steppa rhythms and post-punk aggression. To their credit, the marriage of these two sounds is never jarring. During "Thunderstatement", the early verses' thunderous indie blare, reminiscent of the late, great Trenchmouth, gives way to a Lee "Scratch" Perry bounce -- and does it so naturally that most listeners won't notice the genre change.

Some bands thrive on nutty tonal shifts, but The Jai-Alai Savant never cheapen their songs with attention-seeking novelties. Thunderstatement is too cool and self-assured for that kind of nonsense.



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