For some reason, I’ve always thought of Jetenderpaul as indiedom’s resident clown princes. On one level, their music is cheeky and precocious, full of a pop whimsy that seems part Sid and Marty Krofft, part Wendy Carlos, and part Sgt. Pepper. It’s almost as if these guys have nothing better to do than record pop music that’s as skewed as possible, and yet still catchy and listenable. As such, it’s hard not to write The Modal Lines off as yet another album of psych-pop, complete with analog noodling, electronic flourishes, and baroque undercurrents… oh yeah, and painfully gangly odes to love and girls. But repeated listens reveal a little more.
First off, these guys know how to write solid pop hooks that are so sugary and sweet your teeth will rot. I challenge you to listen to this album and not start nodding your head, tapping your foot, or humming along with that little synth melody that you find noodling along throughout the song, or that peculiar vocal hook that pushes its head above the lo-fi-ness of it all. On top of that, Jetenderpaul isn’t afraid to experiment. No, they’re not the first band to incorporate strange instruments and orchestral flourishes into their sound, and they won’t be the last — but they know how and when to do it effectively, and you might even find yourself smiling at just how inventive it can sound.
“Before You Became Princess Belltower” starts off with winsome electronic flutterings, but I know you won’t be expecting those breakbeats to jump in and give the song a kick in the butt. “The Piles of Paper Left By You” may be reminiscent of John Lennon; however, that’s immediately followed by the spacey electronics and disco beats of “Bonaventure (A Prototype)” and the hazy psychedelia of “George Gabelson.” Unfortunately, that same playfulness within songs gives the album a fragmented feel about it. It bears well under close inspection, but sometimes all of those strange little quirks get a little much during casual listening. This is an album that works best with a set of headphones and a healthy sense of whimsy.
On the whole, the album often sounds like a Switched On Bach record being deconstructed and rebuilt as a radio-friendly pop album… or if The Soft Bulletin hadn’t been so darn symphonic. And be sure to throw in a few cheeky lyrics about love and girls. You know… boy falls in love with girl, boy spends all day pining and writing cheesy poetry, boy turns cheesy poetry into bedroom pop songs recorded on a 4-track (“When you’re in love, never mind what you may be missing/When you’re in love, all the time hugging and kissing”). And while you’re at it, throw in some subtle and offbeat references to Christian theology (“Twenty-One”) to make things even weirder and deeper.
Even though I might have labelled them as “clown princes,” there is an earnestness to The Modal Lines that you won’t find in many such bands. The vocals may not be polished, but there’s an awkwardness about the way they sing lines like “But if you break my heart in two, I don’t know what I will do/And if you break my heart that way, I’ll be the first to step away” (“All I Wanted To Remember”) that makes you want to go “Awwww” instead of “Ewwww.” And if the lyrics aren’t exactly your cup of tea, I’m sure you’ll find plenty of fascinating things wading through Jetenderpaul’s sonic collage.