“David Foster Wallace said what goes on inside your head is just too complicated to describe.” So goes the first line of the second verse of “The Devil is in Her Eyes”, from The Jayhawks’ newest album Paging Mr. Proust, out Apr. 29th on Thirty Tigers Records. If you think it’s odd for a band to name drop an experimental novelist in a song, much less name their album after famed French writer Marcel Proust, then you obviously aren’t familiar with The Jayhawks.
Through their more than 30 year career, through numerous lineup changes, one of the things that has remained constant about The Jayhawks is that they have remained one of the most literate, almost literary, bands going. Enough so to make them stand out even inside the fuzzy boundaries of Americana music, which is more unified by its lyrical intellect than by any musical similarity.
Bandleader Gary Louris, reunited with the celebrated late ’90s lineup of the band that includes Marc Perlman, Tim O’Reagan, Karen Grotberg, and Kraig Johnson, has crafted roots rock for the thinking man, sounding a bit like Full Moon Fever era Tom Petty if that album’s lyrics had been written by an English professor.
But don’t mistake that literacy for inaccessibility. There’s plenty of that on Paging Mr. Proust as well. Musically, it’s a jangly pop-tinged sonic maze with surprises around every bend. It finds The Jayhawks at their most experimental, aided greatly by the dual production assists from REM alum Peter Buck and long time My Morning Jacket collaborator Tucker Martine. The best description of songs like “Ace” or “The Dust of a Long Dead Star” is harmonious discord. Fuzz toned electric guitars weave in and out of acoustic melodies, drums swell at the end of songs and then trail off slowly for a second or two after a song ends, and throughout it Louris’ voice provides the familiar anchor that makes the whole thing undeniably a Jayhawks album.
The Jayhawks, like most Americana bands, are best consumed a full album at a time, so it’s difficult to make single download recommendations. But for the most diverse taste of what Paging Mr. Proust has to offer, check out the easy folk-pop of “Quiet Corners and Empty Spaces”, the sludgy, almost punk tinged, chunk of “Lost the Summer”, and the most obviously Peter Buck influenced track on the album, the REM channeling “Comeback Kids.”
If you’ve been a fans of The Jayhawks at any time during their 30 year career, especially of their ’90s output, Paging Mr. Proust should be high on your purchase list. If you’re just now learning about The Jayhawks, the band has pulled off the enviable feat of creating one of their most accessible albums in years as a perfect jumping on point.