Jodis – Secret Houses

3 out of 5

Label: Hydra Head

Produced by: James Plotkin

A tough, but worthwhile experiment in heavy-duty minimalism.

Jodis does not feature the earth-rumbling howls of Isis frontman Aaron Turner, or the ear-splitting electronic caucaophany’s of the many-band James Plotkin, or the randomized spatter of Khanate drummer Tim Wyskida. There are elements of these three players’ styles – certainly the relative sparseness of percussion on Secret Houses can recall Khanate – but none of these are the features of the album. The album is maybe sans features, actually, and best considered as one whole piece instead of its individual tracks. Our trio are experimenting across that piece, trying to find the most distant, cold, minimalist way to still communicate unease, and aggression – sort of a parallel to Turner’s attempts with Sumac to make the loudest thing ever.

And Secret Houses succeeds, and it fails. Songs stretch out patiently, with atmospherics sustained via reverbed, singular guitar chords or tones, Turner half-chanting and half-mumbling a slow wave of distorted and indecipherable waves, and Wyskida somewhere off in the distance, maybe adding a very, very quiet low end, or maybe only occasionally hitting a cymbal once a century. Ascent – once you’ve accepted the slowburn nature of this approach – is perfectly named, allowing these elements to craft a snowy scene befitting of the white and blue-splashed album cover, and growing in effect over its 6 minutes. When this transitions to Continents, with slightly cleaner vocals and stronger guitar, it’s magic. …But the band doesn’t want to maintain this; it seems against the m.o. of the album, and so Continents stalls – it doesn’t grow. It fades way into the background, immersion lost. The title track seems like a purposeful course correction, as suddenly we’re into shouted vocals and massive drum fills and harsh distorted guitars, but the shock wears off – this track also just hits its note and sustains. We yell and fill and strum for 7 minutes, and despite the volume, it again can be backgrounded. Back to a cleaner, more stripped down sound on Follow the Dogs, the sense of stasis unfortunately persists. I could, admittedly, be showing my bias here, though, as Dogs has more focus on Turner actually singing, his words clear, just as Secret Houses could be said to showcase his yell, and I find Turner’s voice to be very undynamic, in both modes. It seats the songs squarely in a middle ground in which all the tones rather blend together. My bias may also apply to how strong I feel the end of the album is, though: closers Little Beast, Waning, and Slivers return to the sense of buildup and atmosphere of the operner, trailed out across a trio of tracks that are very, very dense in sound, despite being so minimal; they are quiet, and slow, but there’s still a lot going on, and that adds up to elements that are almost song-like in totality.

It’s a good way to close things out, and does set a precedent for what would result in a stronger, more unified approach on the next album.