Jerk, Jerk EP
With their new, self-titled EP, down-low, funky/reggaeified pop trio Jerk has staked out some impressively new, (mostly) unexplored territory. The Houston-dwelling band starts off sounding like a kind of downtempo Reptar, something that’d be perfectly cool with me all on its own, but where that band steers hard into dance-party territory, Jerk takes a hard left turn into a weird, off-the-beaten-path neighborhood where the Talking Heads, old-school reggae, Gary Numan, and Britpop all live side-by-side, or, hell, even in the same damn house.
“Couch Surf” kicks things off slow, with a stomping, soulful, reggae-ish pop sound and awesomely bottom-heavy vocals, and I’m hooked almost immediately — for one thing, vocalist/guitarist/synth player (synthist?) Austin Smith has a surprisingly great range, swinging from crooning tenor to bass rumble without a hitch. It’s seductive and slow, forcing you to bob your head along to the bomp-bomp synth-bass beat.
The band then segues smoothly into “Accidents,” which is bouncy and sweet despite its resemblance to a dancehall version of a minor-key torch song. It’s gently rocking and challengine, with an oddly British feel to it, a vibe that’s possibly helped along by Vicki Lynn’s seesawing synth lines and Zach Alderman’s understated, tightly-controlled drumming.
Then there’s “Delicacy,” and things start to really get strange — in a good way, mind you. It’s slowed-down and ultra-bassy, like a chopped-and-screwed rendition of a David Byrne song, or maybe some long-lost Gorillaz track. Despite the altered speed, it works beautifully, better than it should, making me think of Snooze’s take on reggae legend Horace Andy on The Man in the Shadow. The song rides a lethargic, narcotically swooning, swaying, heavy-lidded groove ’til its end, and then I just want it to start all over again.
“Robert Palmer” brings things back up to speed somewhat, all bumping, ’80s-sounding funk with a sneering smirk. On both that track and the quieter, subtler closing track “Stand Tall,” there’re welcome hints of post-punk noise peeking through the cracks, some of the smooth exterior wearing through to let chunks of jagged guitar and feedback slide in. With the latter, the song almost transmutes into a Radiohead song at the midway mark, and it’s a nice shift.
After I listened to Jerk for the first time, I was dumbfounded, wondering how in the hell I hadn’t heard this band before; even now, this early on in their trajectory, it’s clear they’re something special, something different. Call this EP a warning shot of sorts, great in its own right but promising something utterly stunning to come. I’m seriously looking forward to it.