Jaye Jayle – No Trail and Other Unholy Paths

3 out of 5

Label: Sargent House

Produced by: Dean Hurley

Looping, plodding. A husky voice emotes ominous imagery, repeating phrases into the aether; glossy, minimalist, sharp instrumentation tick-tocks along, occasionally flourishing with sudden distortion, or a burst of hazy, night-soaked horns. Jaye Jayle’s music is one of midnight thoughts on lonely roads; a travelogue to nowhere.

On the band’s / Young Widows’ Evan Patterson’s debut album as Jaye Jayle, it was much more of a side project. Their approach was always more stripped down than Widows’ – upping the bluesy / folksy wooze that’d lain ‘neath the last couple Widows albums and minusing out that group’s heavy-duty hardcore leanings – but it was of a like mind, in song structure and mood, even bringing along YW producer Kevin Ratterman to give it that familiar, cavernous sound. After a split with Emma Ruth Rundle (who also appears here), JJ’s followup album is very much now its own thing. There’s undeniably carryover – you can’t get away from Patterson’s recognizable croon, and when riffs kick-in, it’s with a particular cadence and chord makeup that’s also similar – but Patterson and his bandmates are pushing the minimalist agenda here, and leaning into that to up the rather digital, cold quality of the production.

It’s appealing… but I’m not positive that it’s the most ideal direction for the way Patterson’s lyrics work, and the distancing effect of the way it’s mixed and produced – while perfect for effecting the drone- and trance-like aspects, and juxtaposing more unleashed elements like the occasional saxophone – underserves bass, guitar, and drums backing. There’re constant synths at work, and those have been prioritized. Again, at times – when a line and melody is looping – this is mesmeric, but that’s not the absolute pursuit of the music: there are still some peaks where a beat or a strum kicks in with intended emphasis, and the emphasis just doesn’t really come across. I mention Evan’s lyrics: while, here and in Widows, he presents some thought-provoking imagery and concepts, they often feel like half-thoughts. Young Widows punches this up with the way the music builds, but Jaye Jayle doesn’t necessarily have that fallback, so I can’t quite find myself sinking into the words, either.

There is an interesting divide on the album: the first four “paths” are of this more stripped back variety, and the next four “paths” are more fleshed out. They’re a bit closer to the first Jayle album, and so they’re admittedly more appealing to me, but the overall production style still tamps that down a bit.

Reading reviews, I recognize that JJ’s approach here strikes a chord with some listeners. I do think it’s a conceptually intriguing album, with some memorable grooves, and is ultimately very listenable – my thoughts on lyrics aside, I could listen to Patterson hum a melody for hours – but I can’t say I find this to be the best “realization” of Jaye Jayle I would’ve wanted as progression from album one.