After the emo scene spent five years getting bigger and bigger and bigger until the underground was friggin' collapsing under the weight of all the jockish boys trying to cry their way into girls' panties, the major labels finally took notice. Lots of bands were signed. It wasn't exactly the feeding frenzy of the post-Nirvana/Green Day era -- more like a snacking frenzy (alt-country, "sounds like Radiohead", garage rawk and electroclash were all on the buffet table too). But the Jealous Sound were gobbled up on the merits of their "ex-Knapsack and Sunday's Best" buzzin' EP, released on Better Looking some three years ago. Insert well-worn Wilco/Whiskeytown/Dismemberment Plan-like tale here: guess who spent almost two years on a major gathering dust amidst the Dashboard-led crush of fifth generation emo pretenders without ever putting a record out? The Jealous Sound. Now there's a band name that fits a little too snugly, huh?
For those of you that think emo's just not the same as the good ol' days of '99-'00, the Jealous Sound are finally, uhh, back with their debut full length. Picking up where their EP left off, Kill Them With Kindness is a charged and melodic album full of anthemic choruses, hummable verses, and passionate rock. Things kick off with "Hope For Us", a straightforward four-chord burner starting with palm-muted riffing and Blair Shehan's breathy, Morrisseyesque vocals (though Morrissey never cranked the volume and rasped out the choruses the way Shehan does). "Naive" is a little faster, a little choppier, a little more aggressive all around. The song's title could be a self-conscious nod to Shehan's lyrics -- hey, it wouldn't be emo if it wasn't naive, right? Those lyrics can also be groan-inducingly cheesy (sample: "with you in my arms, I will be new", from "Does That Make Sense").
The record's midsection traverses steadily mid-tempo rock territory, but things pick up dynamically toward the end with the excellently heart-pullin' "For Once in Your Life" and "Recovery Room".
Perhaps the thing that sets the Jealous Sound apart from many of their peers is that they're simply tight -- remember, they had two years to practice. Each member has a well-defined role: Shehan's guitar crunches through simple four-chord progressions while Pedro Benito's guitar is perpetually arpeggiating or noodling up high, providing countermelodies and textures to Shehan's otherwise straightforward songwriting. Max Hart's keyboards occasionally hint at the current '80s redux fad ("Hope For Us" or "Troublesome" for example), and John McGinnis contributes electronic effluvia, just to muddy everything up and take some of the polish off an otherwise (unmarketably) pristine recording.
Kill Them With Kindness is a solid effort, but it's far from seminal. Most of the songs clock in between three and four minutes (with an obligatory climactic epic near the album's end), and they make little attempt at departing from the emo/pop format -- it's all uptempo verses, half-time choruses, slightly-more-passionate bridges and clanging choruses that burn out over a slow fade. And yet somehow this sounds fresh to me. If it had come out a couple of years ago -- when it was supposed to -- it probably would have been lost in the shuffle between Rainer Maria and The Gloria Record. Put it next to the Ataris' big radio hit, though, and the Jealous Sound's punch and passion really shine.