4 out of 5
Label: Hydra Head
Produced by: James Plotkin
With much respect to Aaron Turner – for being a key fixture on a label that brought me a bunch of joy, Hydra Head; for being parts of several incredibly influential bands, or bringing together various supergroup iterations that have also been incredibly influential; for growing with the times and evolving on metal-geared tastes with the experimental SIGE label; and for the unique art direction on much of the HH and SIGE labels’ output which is often worthy of framing – I can’t say I’ve ever been too taken by any music projects with which the artist has directly been involved. It’s unfortunate, because Turner is a massively productive creative power, connecting with other creative (and talented) people, but the many bands and one-offs tend to miss the mark for me. I’ll often criticize the music for oddly feeling restrained in some fashion; for Turner’s vocals – generally shouted – to be part of that restraint, as though both elements are kind of dialed up for effect instead of due to passion; and in line with these things, if Aaron is writing the lyrics, their dark and gloominess is rather nondescript – too vague to make for much interpretation.
Jodis is another Turner-helmed project, and so I expected similar affects. I browsed the lyrics: yup. And I gave the album a passing spin, and while it’s more stripped down than the “norm” – minimal guitar and drums, taking a note from drummer Tommy Wyskida’s Khanate; Aaron singing instead of shouting – I thought I had the album’s number, for the most part. But something about it remained a bit elusive. There did seem to be something there that I wasn’t quite registering, so I turned it up, and played it through again.
And then it made sense.
Jodis, to me, is the second coming of one of my favorite albums of all time: Codeine’s Frigid Stars. While I might confusingly say I don’t consider that album perfect, it is one of the ultimate album “experiences” in my catalogue, and I don’t know that I’ve heard anything that matches its quiet / loud slocore disparities quite the same way, until I gave Black Curtain the same opportunity. All of Turner’s restrained elements work for this style of music, and James Plotkin is exactly the right producer to push the sound into the modern age, touching the cavernous pangs of guitar with various subtle manipulations, and softening and harshening the sound when it makes the most sense. Turner’s plaintive singing voice, while still lacking in any special emotive quality, is a haunting match to this – it’s another instrument, layering on top of all the echoing distortion strums and percussion bangs. Ideally, the lyrics could still be sharpened up to hit more directly, adding another layer, but his chosen words, as far as imagery and themes go, are certainly matching to the fleeting-hope nature of the music.
The album’s six tracks float and fade into one another. Climaxes happen – closer Beggar’s Grasp is an epic – but they’re also purposefully then subsumed by the crawling pace of the album, sucking you back in to its waves of shimmery sound. That’s an obtuse way to craft immersion, possibly, but when given the time, it absolutely works.