Jagd – Civic EP – Review

 

Civic is the newest and second official EP released by the four-piece Amsterdam band Jagd. The band has been busy for around three years, in which they won the Q’s Best Award, the Amsterdam Pop Award, toured the nation for 30 shows in the Popronde, and have started off 2018 on the bill of the prestigious Noorderslag Festival.

The Amsterdam band scene is always brimming with up-and-coming acts, currently dominated by the so-called “indie genre”, which in itself doesn’t tell you a damn thing about what this genre is supposed to sound like. Mostly this entails singer-songwriter acts and slow pop-rock bands with an emphasis on melody, retro-instrumentation and, above all, sounding as boring and bland as possible (in my humble opinion). On the other hand, there’s always a couple of overly technical metal groups in the Amsterdam band scene as well. Where the regular indie-pop band might attempt to appeal to such a broad audience that their sound becomes dreary and boring, the metal bands are often too focused on their specific sound (“no actually, we only play black industrial post-avant goth thrash metal, thank you very much”) to actually appeal to any sizeable audience. The thing I would wish most for was to see a band combine both melodic and energetic sounds, and put together in a fresh or inventive way.

In comes Jagd, one of the few current bands to actually fit the description. I’ve seen enough people attempting to fit Jagd’s sound into various categories at once and fail, so I do not intend to follow that route. Let’s just say they’re a rock band, period. The things that do define Jagd’s sound are the songs, which are often exquisitely layered. It’s aggressive “high-hats-on-fire” drumming, a spitfire of staccato guitar riffs, heavy and buzzing basslines, with powerful, standout vocals on top of it all. This band is a punk-rock lasagna unlike your momma ever dared to make you.

On their first single and EP (titled Airlock and Parlay respectively) Jagd established this sound, and so far they haven’t strayed too far from it. This means little to no guitar solos, no heavy distortion, and no macho shredding or tapping techniques as with other rock bands. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a classic rock sound like Led Zeppelin or Van Halen or whatever—it’s just that Jagd seems to purposely deviate from that sound. If you had to pick any label to describe Jagd other than rock, it would be “alternative rock”, I suppose. So how does all this all come together on their latest release?

The EP opens with its title track, “Civic”, immediately showcasing a synthesizer thrown in the mix. The synth has often played a minor role onstage, but has taken a somewhat bigger part on this new EP, and is an interesting choice for a band of their loud volume and high tempo. The simple beeps of the intro already work well in creating the pressured atmosphere of the song, the build-and-release structure between verse and chorus. “Overbored” is a track in the same vein as “Civic”, being a track strongly in line with Jagd’s previous work. The two tracks pack a lot of typical Jagd energy, and past the halfway mark instead of building up towards a flaming solo they opt for a dark, atmospheric bridge or interval. This is a cool trick in Jagd’s musical arsenal with which they both do away with the need for a solo as well as maintain the energy of the song by transforming it into something much more creeping, dark and foreboding. It is done well on both tracks, and as such they are very representative of Jagd’s overall sound. It’s powerful, energetic and unlike any other band on the scene right now. On a critical note, however, the “foreboding bridge”-thing works especially well during live performances (in which the atmospheric intervals are a welcome dynamic shift from the regular intensity of the songs), but is an element which returns in a couple of Jagd songs, and perhaps a bit too much so. Though the band has not released too many songs, the risk of the “foreboding bridge” element to become repetitive is there already.

The only song on the EP to deviate from this formula appears to be the track “Elevate”, which also happens to be a definite highlight on this record as well as in the overall Jagd repertoire. It’s a lighter track compared to the rest of the EP, in no small part due to the bridge, which is the most serene point in all four tracks: the guitar chords are allowed to ring out, and the bass leads with a few laid-back fills (something I would love to see more of in the future). It’s also the track which best represents the band’s growth in creating memorable melodies; compared to previous releases it’s easier to sing along to, while the guitar riffs are still as driving as they are catchy. “Elevate” showcases Jagd’s ability to create dynamic songs, be it in theme, tone or rhythm. The control the band exercises on the track’s intensity has incredible range, from the minimal verses to the explosion after the bridge—the craftsmanship is undeniable.

I wish the same could be said for the EP’s main single, “Awkward”, on which I can be conflicted at times. On the one hand, it’s probably the catchiest track the band has made to date, as well as being the most recognizable and suited for live performances (the song practically begs for a stadium gig, with its big echoes, booms and synth intervals). On the other hand, the aforementioned dynamics within this track are fairly extreme—the way the song builds up toward its climaxes only to grind to immediate halts from time to time is not optimal for maintaining flow, something Jagd usually excels at. The bridge, which again is slow and brooding, also takes a considerably long while in its buildup, and as a result the track ends up meandering from verse to verse. Still, the payoff in the form of a musical explosion is definitely there in the end. Not to mention the captivating vocal lines of the verses, self-deprecating though it might be. It should also be noted how well the synth works on this track, creating an almost bombastic, almost orchestral sound during its intervals. It’s refreshing to hear a track which is more unorthodox compared to their earlier work, and in the end it really perks me up to see if this is a musical direction we could expect more of in the future. For now, however, “Awkward” is a track that serves the band well during live performances, but is a little rough around the edges in the studio recording. Perhaps this could be a nice incentive to go view the band live—something I would highly recommend. The production on this EP is good, but the fact stands that it remains hard to capture that “live” sound.

To conclude, Civic is a solid extension to Jagd’s oeuvre. It’s hard to differentiate between the tracks from this EP and their previous releases, though this is not a bad thing; it shows a strong and dependable fundament for what could be a future album. And in the end, that’s what most fans are waiting for at this point. Airlock, Parlay and Civic feel like assorted snippets of the first pages in the book that is Jagd. Though an album would naturally be vastly different from a small EP, it is the next great challenge the band could be facing. They have shown their competence over and over, winning awards left and right, slaying at Noorderslag—all that’s left seems to be the break-through debut album (and with it the destruction of the boring indie scene). I would highly recommend checking Civic out.

A final note of attention to all Amsterdam music lovers: if you feel like supporting your local bands, look no further than Jagd. It’s a band at the start of something great, and you’re paying next to nothing to witness the sensation from the front row. I advise you get those tickets now, before the prices inevitably skyrocket after the big break. It’s just a matter of time.

Be sure to check out the touring dates, merchandise and videos on their website.

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