ALBUM REVIEW: Jarvis Cocker’s JARV IS… distills its live performance on ‘Beyond The Pale’

Jarv Is..., Jarvis Cocker, Beyond the Pale

JARV IS…, the latest brainchild of Jarvis Cocker, vocalist of Britpop icons Pulp, originally formed to play Sigur Rós’ 2017 Norður og Niður festival in Iceland. The group has since developed its sound through a series of performances across the U.K. In fact, the very songs on this debut album were completed, and sometimes partly recorded, at various live shows over the past three years. After recording a few overdubs and vocal sessions in London, the first JARV IS… LP is ready to see the light of day. Beyond The Pale’s amalgamation of art-pop and post-punk reflects the spontaneous nature of the performances from which it stemmed.

Beyond The Pale
Rough Trade Records, July 17

The first two tracks draw immediate comparisons to Kirin J Callinan, with the addition of new-age slam poetry. Opener “Save The Whale” and the following “Must I Evolve?” lend themselves to a hippy-esque Icelandic festival. It’s easy to imagine chilling out with Sigur Rós’ CBD gummies while basking in the former’s detailed beats and multilayered instrumentation, or the latter’s dance-rock ode to inevitable change and existential rebelliousness.

Both cuts are driven by call-and-response vocals between Jarvis Cocker and the rest of the band, which completes the band’s interactive songwriting. “Must I Evolve” earned the high praise it received last year with robust concept and impressionistic dynamic shifts.

JARV IS… revels in developing simplistic ideas with oddball detours and surprising gusto. It’s not surprising that a track like “House Music All Night Long” was conceived on the road. Even its namesake paints a picture of late-night ravers bumping to Adam Bett’s protracted disco beats along with Jason Buckle’s pristine synths and arpeggiated electronics.

Similarly, “Am I Missing Something” retains coherency as it builds from minimalist drum loops and staccato synths. The band flows from almost nothing to an overwhelming sonic tide. Cocker balances emotive shouts and brooding sprechgesang, as he and Emma Smith lock their guitars into some addictive riffs with bassist Andrew McKinney. JARV IS… constructs elaborate soundscapes on airtight pop motifs, like a post-rock take on John Maus.

The woodwind buzz, percussive clamor and bass synth that start “Sometimes I Am Pharoah” support one of the most unnerving vocal performances by Jarvis Cocker. Amid dissonant anti-chords and mutated Afro-beat rhythms, the frontman enters an imposing headspace of grand illusions and primal ritualism. His narratives remain ambiguous, yet are vivid in their imagery.

The JARV IS… formula of free-flowing musicality and compelling storytelling reaches an unassuming precipice on “Swanky Modes.” Smith’s violin lines glide over delicate piano chords and a hushed back beat, generating emotive modulations to match Cocker’s heartfelt balance of spoken-word and baritone singing. His depiction of human strife elevates this spaced-out jam, though it would work just fine on that merit alone.

Beyond The Pale represents the distillation of a band made for a live setting. It’s to the credit of JARV IS… that all of the components of closer “Children of The Echo” don’t add up to a disorganized hodgepodge. From funky drumming and melodic bass lines to evolving guitar strains and futuristic keyboard catches. Each musician finds a place in the amorphous progression, following the lead of Cocker and the backup singers. Whether it’s infectiously hooky or intoxicatingly alien, Beyond The Pale takes listeners to the clubs it came from—immortalizing an era of an ongoing project as it continues to grow from here.

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