Not long after putting on The Jigsaw Seen’s new album Bananas Foster for the first time, I got distracted and walked away until about halfway through the album. Upon my return, I had to check what was playing, because I thought for sure that what was playing was some late ’60’s British rock, perhaps some Kinks album I had somehow overlooked. But no, Bananas Foster was recorded in 2010 by the Jigsaw Seen and is the Los Angeles based band’s 4th full length album since forming in 1988. That I had to check, speaks volumes about The Jigsaw Seen’s success in their retro rock stylings, showing that the album stands up to the classics by which it is influenced.
From the entrance of vocals in the opening track, “Bertha Brilliance,” the album sounds like a late 1960’s British response to the American garage-rock scene that developed in the wake of the British Invasion. It remains in this vein through the remainder of side one of the LP, culminating in the fifth track, “Choreography Killed the Cat,” which uses wordplay to argue for a less measured approach to song and life, with more spontaneity. It also includes the line “You’re stepping out of time and everybody knows,” summing up the album’s general feel and setting up for the second side’s commentary, as it builds up to a crescendo that gives the album much of its momentum.
“Where the Action Isn’t” kicks down the door to the album’s second half with a forceful guitar riff and distorted vocals that give the song a more modern feel than the rest of the album. This more modern sound, coupled with the rejection of “the little scenester queen” mentioned in it, make it seem a response to Paul Revere and the Raiders’ 1965 recording “Action,” which states “come on baby let me take you where the action is.” This response to the ’60’s U.S. garage scene continues with the next track, which opens with Egyptian imagery, harkening back to Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs. It adds to the sense of The Jigsaw Seen’s nostalgia for and envy of the late ’60’s music scene. Interestingly, although lyrically evocative of Sam the Sham’s Egyptian shtick, musically “Cave Canem is far more like Peter Sarstedt’s faux English folk. The discord this creates an excellent example of The Jigsaw Seen’s success in synthesizing their many influences to create music that sounds both much like a product of the late 1960’s and fresh at the same time. Bananas Foster continues with a few Kinksesque tracks, although none sounds overly derivative (which is to be expected considering that Jonathan Lea, The Jigsaw Seen’s guitarist has been a part of Dave Davies’ backup band since 2002).
Ultimately, The Jigsaw Seen succeeds in creating an album that stands both as a retro rock album and as a new, fresh statement on Bananas Foster. Unlike other efforts to add to older musical conversations within the language of that era, the band loses no momentum during the album and avoids any tracks that feel like novelty songs. In its success at this, Bananas Foster deserves to be in the conversation for best albums of 2010, but not to beat out The Suburbs or The Monitor for top status.
“Footnotes,” Thursdays 11pm-midnight on WGTB