I’ll be up-front with you: I’m not a fan of punk. I do, however, appreciate good music in whatever form it may take, analyzing it the way I would a fine beverage or a good painting. How does the artist use melody, rhythm, instrumentation and arrangement? Is it original or imitative? Is there attention to detail? So I’m hitting the MySpace profile for Jinx and the Back Alley Cats, wondering what to expect. It says I’m supposed to expect garage, surf and punk. Folks, never judge a band by their MySpace profile category or you miss the gems. Jinx and the Back Alley Cats have a wide variety of textures and moods: aggressive and contemplative; punky and funky; serious and comic. Their 2010 release is sure to please the punk crowd, but there are also pearls to be found if you’re not into punk.
Fish As Friends begins with “Twin Bed,” which I found energetic but underwhelming. Then comes “Animal,” and I’m immediately transported inside a Quentin Tarantino movie, with the bedside smoke and the looming danger and the femme fatale. This is beyond cool. You can hear some Jack White influence in “Bo Peep” and “Dry N Strung.” “Way I Am” starts with a guitar riff that could have easily come from a bluegrass mandolin, which makes it really interesting when the band comes in and turns it into radio-friendly rock without sounding emasculated or soulless. “Machine Wing” has a satirical cowboy sound that plays marvelously with the death theme, where a man unexpectedly faces the spiritual side of things. Is he a soldier pondering the meaning of death or a desperado trying to grapple control in the last moments of life? There’s a great lyric, “This is my last right,” that plays off a dying man’s last rites. “Jeffrey” is fairly standard punk fare, but the title track is the Hope Diamond of the disc, with a great melody and an easy acoustic feel that is at once whimsical and sad. The imperfections in the singer’s voice work wonderfully for the song the way it can with, say, Modest Mouse, only not nearly as abrasive. The theremin solo juxtaposed with the acoustic rhythm is hilarious; it mirrors the emotion of the lyrics, with “I bet its cold on the ocean floor but with fish as friends, oh who could ask for more?” “Line In The Sand” starts out rather predictably, then jars you with a very funky left turn into a wild arrangement to wrap up the disc.
Some of the songs suffer in melody or originality, but the bright points far outshine the grey spots. Look for a vinyl release from Jinx and the Back Alley Cats in the next few months, and of course they’ll be playing out and about the Summit City.