I write quite a bit about music on this website. You might have noticed. At times it seems like this website is about little else. It’s strange for me, seeing as how music played a rather insignificant role in my life when I was younger. Now pretty much ALL of my friends are musicians. And so am I!
So I was extremely honored when I was approached by Seattle rock musicians The Jesus Rehab, who gave me an advance copy of their latest album long before it was available to the public and asked if I might write something about it. I said that I would. So here we are!
The Jesus Rehab, if you don’t already know (and you probably do if you read this website) are a rock duo brother act (Jared Cortese as guitarist/vocalist and Dom “The Nizzle” Cortese as drummer/backup-vocalist) based in Seattle. They’re originally from the Michigan area, but moved out to Seattle many a year ago. They made a 5-song EP in 2007, to which I must admit, much to my embarrassment, that I haven’t actually listened to yet. Whoops!
Then after many, many years of recording & producing, their first full-length album was released in 2011: The Highest Highs & Lowest Lows. This is an sprawling and epic concept album about the emotional trials and tribulations of a dude and all the highs and lows he goes through (hence the title). The music is also rather sprawling and epic, with tonnes of instrumentation including pianos, guitars, basses, keyboards, drums, percussions, & more, all building a rather impressive “wall of sound” that at times gets very spacey and far out. Some of the individual songs are also epic in length, stretching out in pseudo-psychadelic headiness.
Shortly after HH/LL was released, the band changed creative directions dramatically. They became a completely stripped down band consisting solely of one guitar and one drum set. Their songs became similarly stripped down, and the follow-up EP Drunken Hillbilly Fight Bar (and the preceding single “No More Tears For Me“) eschews almost all of the epic spaciness of their previous album in favor of fun, catchy, hook-driven, power-pop/rock songs. Gone was the lavish production of HH/LL, replaced by unapologetic, raw, honest rock & roll. Comparisons to Weezer frequently popped up and were not unwarranted.
Two Years after DHFB, this stripped-down rock duo has created their second full-length album: The Zoo At Night.
Self-described as “sweet, muscular garage pop,” The Zoo at Night is 11 songs that continue the tradition started with DHFB but relaxes and expands it as well. The title of the album is, according to a recent interview with the band on KIRO Radio, a bit of a metaphor for the various social masks that people wear when they interact with each other. The band imagined a zoo where the animals stop pretending for the tourists when night falls, get out of their cages, and just kinda hang out and be their true selves. The Zoo at Night is who you really are.
That idea of things hidden below a false surface facade is one of the major themes of the album. Most of the songs make outward references to homeyness and innocent childhood (especially “Family Portrait,” “Sallie,” and “Karrin Keil”). A lot of the songs reference “our town” with an emphasis on the “our” rather than just being “the” town.
But underneath all that homeyness and innocence is a sense that something is wrong. Sometimes this is rather explicit, as in “Mind Readers,” which is about a bunch of evil psychics in the center of “our town” who transform us into slaves to the Lizard King (which is meant literally and NOT a reference to Jim Morrison, if you can believe it), or “Battle Scars,” which starts out with the lyrics:
I’m a fat kid, I think I’m ugly
I’m a chubby kid, cute and cuddly
Grandma loves me, everyone else hates me
But oftentimes it is done through an interesting juxtaposition of upbeat, lyrically bright versus surrounding rather somber, melancholy choruses. “Power” (one of my personal favorites on the album) has strong, poppy verses along the lines of:
I believe in the power of a man.
On darkest days he always does the best that he can.
His wife, his children, and his health.
He’s got no job, no money, but he’s got something else.
But then the music gets melancholy and softer for the chorus, which consists of:
You’ll discover that we are not who we are.
You’ll discover that we are not who you think that we are.
And during the last round of choruses you can hear in the background, “The truth, the truth: we don’t know what we’re doing.”
Also, “Family Portrait” is reminiscent of the classic 80s song “Our House in the Middle of Our Street” in that it shows snapshots of what each member of a family is doing at various times, like “Momma’s in the kitchen making bread” and “Grandma took the kids to the store” and “Brother’s at the table doing math.” But even some of those moments are a bit off, like “Grandma’s in the bedroom with the crucifix” and “Baby’s in the closet ’cause it’s scary.” And the chorus of the song is:
I feel the comfort in your heart,
I feel the comfort of your lonely lonely heart.
I feel the hunger in you heart,
I feel the hunger in your lonely lonely heart.
Kinda unsettling for a song about a family, eh?
Also in “Karrin Keil,” which is so upbeat it’s almost an Oompah-sounding song describing how awesome a couple of kids are, has a quieter-sounding chorus with lyrics of:
I’m not certain there is purpose,
I’m not certain there is a purpose.
It might sound like this album is rather downbeat, but in fact it is not. It is some foot-stompin’, rip-roaring fun as well, as if The Jesus Rehab want to shatter the underlying darkness with some good ol’ fashioned noise! The Jesus Rehab above all else have a great sense of humor that they mix generously with their darker impulses, which is especially apparent in a verse in “Power” that goes:
I believe in the power of a thought.
Never ever underestimate the power of a thought.
Moving mountains with a simple command,
One thousand monkeys and a man could rule the world.
The titular “The Zoo At Night” song just has fun, silly lyrics:
Elephants and zebras, lions and hyenas,
Buffaloes and cheetahs, tigers and baboons,
Don’t forget the monkeys playing with the spiders,
Lizards and the fire ants, and a sun bear too.
We’re going to the zoo at night.
And also “Mind Readers” is a tonne of fun. Just see how much fun this song is by watching the official music video (in which I just happen to have a few cameos) here:
So that’s the album in a nutshell. I must say my two favorite songs on the album have to be “Power” and “Lickin’ My Wounds,” both of which exemplify the stripped-down, noisy, muscular garage pop of The Jesus Rehab. And I am SUPER EXCITED that they gave me permission to WORLD PREMIERE one of the songs from “The Zoo At Night” here on my website! So here is…
The World Premiere of “Lickin’ My Wounds!”
(click below to play it)
Just listen to those two songs. Those is good, catchy, poppy, and the word that keeps popping into my head is “unapologetic.” But an interesting thing that can be heard especially in songs like “Cannonball,” “The Zoo at Night,” and “Vertigo,” is a reincorporation of some of the spacier, more epic musicality of HH/LL within the stripped-down simplicity of The Jesus Rehab’s new sound. It’s very interesting, and I can’t wait to hear what their next album will sound like. Let’s hope it isn’t another four years!
If you’d like to purchase The Zoo at Night, well, tough. You can’t… yet. Like I said, they gave me an advance copy of the album. They’re going to be releasing it for the first time at their CD Release Party (if you can believe that).
The album won’t be available for download until Tuesday, February 4th. Once that date hits, be sure to check out their Bandcamp page to get some!
The Jesus Rehab CD Release Party (Facebook event)
Saturday, February 1st @ 9:00 PM
5433 Ballard Ave NW, Seattle 98107
That was fun! If you’d like me to review your album, just let me know and I’ll see what I can do!