‘Cape and Cane’ slows down Joggers

Mike Morrone

The Joggers seem to owe a debt to XTC. The four-piece from Portland has been compared to nearly everything indie over the last twenty-five years. They have opened for Ted Leo/Pharmacists and Hot Hot Heat. Their front man Ben Whitesides even had a performance-induced breakdown, just like XTC singer Andy Partridge. While Whitesides recovered in New England with his parents, many including the other band members themselves wondered if “Solid Guild”, their excellent debut, would be their only release. Fortunately, Whitesides recovered, and the Joggers release “With a Cape and a Cane,” a more than serviceable sophomore effort.

The Joggers often draw comparison to the Walkmen. But this doesn’t ring true with the beginning of “With a Cape and a Cane.” Opening track “Ziggurat Traffic” kicks off with a chorus of crickets and then builds to an exotic guitar part. The drumming is tight, but something just seems to be off, maybe the pounding bass overwhelms the otherwise intriguing song.

Fortunately the rest of “With a Cape and a Cane” picks up, although you wouldn’t guess from the opening salvo from “We’ve Been Talked Down.” The line “Everyone started to die…” is sung/spoken in harmony. The off-kilter arrangement doesn’t hide behind too many studio effects or trickery. The sonic space the Joggers now reside in sounds more raw yet somehow tighter and more confident. The extended outro to the song seems as if it could have been found on the Owls’ self-titled album.

“Wicked Light Sleeper” is an irrepressible blast in half time. The Joggers seem to be doing their best impression of Q and Not U circa their “Different Damage” days. This song should have the hipsters pogoing and chirping on the floors and in the concert halls. “Wicked Light Sleeper” is an undeniably fun song that demands the repeat button.

Later in the album, “Night of the Horsepills” starts with retro guitar chords that hook their audience. This song also wanders into lovelorn territory, describing a reunion between two lovers. Whitesides begs his subject to come off it, since he’s a little tired and weak. This song is another winner.

The album doesn’t lose any steam, and it also avoids sounding too repetitive during the listen, which “Solid Guild” could be found guilty of at times. Many songs still feature the four-part harmonies found on their debut, another facet that the Walkmen don’t exhibit. The lyrics are moody at times, but not nearly as teeming with ferocity as some of their counterparts.

A consistent disappointment, unfortunately, was the bass work on the album. Many songs have intricate guitar lines picked and strummed that are just overshadowed by the unimaginative bass parts. They were either (mistakenly) focused on in the mixing process, or bassist Darrell Bourque just doesn’t fit as well as the other pieces of the band anymore. I even put “Solid Guild” on after listening to “With a Cape and a Cane,” and the bass work was just much better overall on their first release. With a band like the Joggers, the bass would have the almost impossible task to keep up with the rest of the rhythm section, so it would be best put to use in brief but effective blasts. Bourque must think it’s his show, forgetting that much of what made “Solid Guild” compelling was the harmony and the interplay between guitars.

Overall, “With a Cape and a Cane” is a more than capable second release. But for this reviewer’s money, go dig up “Solid Guild” first and just enjoy.