Back in the ’90s when there was such a thing as radio I remember a DJ topping off a song by saying if he were in a band it would be called something `totally, wickedly cool’ like…Savage Garden. Well, I know. But that name sort of ruled, at least if you’re into oddly juxtaposed two-word combinations (I am: I want to start a band called Apocalyptic Eucalyptus, or at least have that be our first record. Badass!) I also liked Savage Garden for reasons I won’t go into here, but as far as monikers go Jaguar Love’s got nearly the same compact zoom. It’s totally, wickedly cool, or even savagely so. What’s more, Jaguar Love plays some very primal pop, which if not a miniature genre is at least another awesome two-word collusion. Primal pop, I mean.
Jaguar Love emerged more or less intact from the collective ashes of Blood Brothers and Pretty Girls Make Graves, the former being a noise/punk/mania operation who patented a sort of childlike nihilism, the latter being among the top ten bands most likely to be found on your girlfriend’s iPod. Jaguar Love’s first full-length, Take Me To The Sea, doesn’t so much execute a full pivot away from that pedigree as it does fully invoke it, good bad & ugly. The same chrome-like guitars sometimes collapse into the same sheet-metal hysteria; the same hair-on-fire vocals, courtesy of Johnny Whitney, execute the standard helium-induced nightmares.
Take Me To The Sea takes off with the tightly-spiraled guitars of single “Highways Of Gold.” Whitney, in characteristic free-form style, backs himself up with nonsensical caterwauling but the song somehow reaches its popcentric destination anyway. The driving “Jaguar Pirates” (hell, they could have called themselves that) could be a cut from the last Smashing Pumpkins record, except that it doesn’t suck utterly: Clark’s subtle snare-usage tugs the album onto some of its most interesting turf. “Georgia,” formerly “Georgia, Take Me To The Sea,” (ew, that one wouldn’t work), is a skewed ballad separated at birth from “Chandeliers And Vines,” one of the choicer cuts off Chandeliers In The Savannah, the gritty, glammy, and so-far only album by Whitney’s last project Neon Blonde (don’t get me started on how splendid that name is–okay, I’ll stop). Its wistful sighs and piano-led denouement accidentally stumble onto a softness that Jaguar Love’s progenitors rarely demonstrated with any facility; it’s a rare reminder of how pretty Whitney’s vocals can sound when they’re higher in the mix.
Strictly speaking, there’s more Neon Blonde DNA in Jaguar Love than the other two dead bands: Take Me To The Sea is for better or worse a straight-up rock record, belaying all the hyphenated categories. It’s difficult to conjure the rockabilly whackness of “Bonetrees And A Broken Heart” without the suppleness of Chandeliers In The Savannah. Album closer “My Organ Sounds Like..” has fans split between its bewhiskered demo version and slightly-shinier final cut, but in any case it’s as good as almost any Strokes song. “Man With The Plastic Suns,” meanwhile, may or may not be a Smiths overture. The band’s keeping mum. In any case it’d be hard not to feature Take Me To The Sea on some scrambled-circuit ghost-wave superstation of the avant-garde, if such a thing existed–truly, madly, deeply.