Jakob: Solace – 10 Years On

Entry point: Malachite

Personal highlight: Pneumonic

Music with vocals is so prevalent in pop culture.

When I hear a new piece of music, my brain glosses over lyrical content on the first few listens. It’s busy doing other things like pattern recognition. Find the hook or the groove and then work outwards to paint the wider picture of what I’m hearing. It’s visceral, my mind evaluating subconsciously – does this pattern work? What does this pattern remind me of? Do I like this pattern?

Often instrumental music seems harder to connect with. I’ve been to many instrumental concerts – the crowd is there – they have paid to see this band. Yet it’s different. There isn’t a narrator to take your hand and steer you on a curated journey of feelings. No protagonist to empathise with. I say that it “seems harder to connect with” but in truth, I think it’s just as easy to connect with, but the connection is very different.

As pretentious as it may sound, instrumental music is like a landscape painting or abstract art. It exists for you to find and apply your own meaning. Again, not to say that music with lyrics doesn’t sometimes leave enough room that the same lyrics can mean a thousand different things to a thousand different people.

The difficult to Google band “Athletics” released their fantastic EP – “Who You Are Is Not Enough” twice. One version with vocals, then months later an instrumental mix of the same EP with track titles suffixed with “(Find Yourself)”.

Either way it’s an epic piece of music broken up into five parts. Four parts of brilliance, one part filler which feels like a leftover from the previous EP.

Having listened ad nauseam to the version with vocals, hearing the same songs instrumental felt empty. I had become accustomed to knowing what the songs were about, or at least my interpretation. My brain was hearing the recognisable patterns but a piece was missing. Then doing what brains do, it filled it in by me often subconsciously humming along to the vocal line.

Why the vocal line? At a guess, it’s far easier to hum along to the single melody that is the vocals than it is to try and hum chords. Hum along to something like Alice in Chains where there are two harmonising vocals going on and your brain will pick the dominant one more often than not, even if that means altering between the two singers on the recording.

It’s a shame the vocal version of Who You Are is Not Enough came first. It would have been a fun experiment to gauge how much of an impact vocals have on enjoyment of a piece of music. I’m sure two camps exist, those who prefer the vocal version and a similar number who prefer the instrumental. I am firmly in the former camp.

Having said that, if I’d heard the instrumental version first, what are the chances I’d hate the vocals and lyrics? “These don’t align with meanings I’ve woven in my head” I can hear myself moan.

Jakob, a three-piece band from New Zealand, have never put me through that internal battle.

Jakob write music which is near the pinnacle of that instrumental/post rock sort of sound. A genre comprised of soundtracks of music for films that don’t exist yet. That’s the best descriptor I can come up with for post rock.

In 2006, Jakob released their third full length album – Solace.

Solace is a masterpiece.

I first discovered Jakob in 2008 when they toured Australia with Cog. Cog had just released “Sharing Space” and were at the peak of their powers. Their previous album “The New Normal” had changed the way Australian prog/hard rock bands saw themselves. There was a seismic shift when “The New Normal” and Karnivool’s “Themata” came out. These two Australian bands had released albums were world class.

“A high tide raises all ships” is a favourite quote of mine and the two abovementioned albums brought the tide in with them.

Soundcheck was always fun to watch with Cog, particularly when the venues still had stragglers who weren’t there to see the gig sinking their last beer before the 7:30 class. Lucius Borich’s massive drumkit – complete with gong – they took on a very theatrical look.

To say I remember much of Jakob that night would be a lie. I remember a few scattered moments; I remember noting that instrumental bands were very rare to me back then, that it was strange Cog brought two bands over from New Zealand to tour with them, and that these guys were really solid musicians. An album was purchased from the merch desk. Kora, the second support band I remember nothing. People were already flooding the floor to get prime position for Cog.

Fast forward a few weeks and somewhere along the way I’ve lost the Jakob CD. Not sure I ever listened to it, though the cover art of black silhouetted trees on red stuck with me.

Fast forward a few years, I’m browsing Bandcamp. Bandcamp is one of my favourite websites and the best way I’ve found to purchase music, but I’ll post at length on that later.

I see a familiar name – Jakob. I wonder if that’s the band I saw with Cog many years ago. No idea why the names stuck with me, but Jakob, Kora, Cog seemed to be a memorable billing.

Click on the Jakob artist page. There are a few released on here to choose from. The visuals kick in, which cover looks like the best starting point. Totally arbitrary but that’s what I do. Trees silhouetted against a red background – that looks familiar.

The first play through of Malachite and Pneumonic are enough to add to cart. Hurry up and download!

This is the band I remember watching live, same guys, same artwork. The recording is so much better than I remember than what I gave them credit for.

Oh how it could have been had I not lost that CD. This is part of the beauty of the internet, obscure band (sorry guys) from NZ + Internet = no worries.

Solace is three musicians at the top of their game. So rarely in rock music are dynamics and timbre explored that it’s unusual. Even rarer is for a band to have it pulled off the experiment with such excellent execution.

10 years on, the production remains perfect for the songs. The pacing of the album feels natural; there are no artificial ebbs or flows. No obvious leftovers from a previous recording session that got thrown in to the mix.

Malachite (6:34) is built on a driving pulse where delayed guitar repeats on itself, building and adding drums to the point of mini-crescendos before it starts again – building to a climax.

Pneumonic (5:34) is the culmination of a real solid groove, great drum sound and musicians comfortable with playing less than is required. It’s a very good thing.

Two songs in and we’re at the 12 minute mark. I’d draw the line here. If you don’t like what you’ve heard so far, give up. Jakob aren’t for you.

Solace is a perfect companion piece for almost any daily activity that requires some motivation. Got a report to write at work? Lame right? Write the report with Solace playing. Instantly you’ll feel yourself typing in the groove and if you’re summing up an argument during a crescendo it feels like the most amazing point you’ve ever made – it has to be – just listen to the music.

There is no clinical proof that listening to this album will make your report writing better, but it certainly makes it feel more dramatic to me.

Lonesome (8:00) has a very slow and deliberate feel. Not Type O Negative slow, but slow. Monolithic and building to the point of chaos then subsiding back to control. Picture Roland Emmerich asking a rock band to provide a soundtrack to his next movie where the world nearly ends but humanity prevails.

Oran Mor (5:16) adding my own narrative to this one – it feels more like a video game. The first notes take me back to a time when the Playstation didn’t have a suffix. It could have been the music to the first Resident Evil game but with a groove to it. The noisy wah section in the middle is similar to the one in Lonesome but whatever the subtle differences I much prefer this one.

We’re now reaching the 50% mark of the album. The rest is more of the same, but it’s a formula I like. The recording is timeless and the performances nuanced enough that there is variation. Not every song reaches a ten on the intensity meter, that’s also a good thing here. The album ebbs and flows.

Safety in Numbers (7:53) is a chance to catch your breath again. Reminiscent of Malachite but this time it’s the drums driving the song forward and the guitars adding the texture. It’s a wall of noise that eventually hits, yet it still has melody and a succinct rhythmic pattern that has been charging the song along since the start.

Everything All Of The Time (9:38) features the unmistakable sound of an ebow for the first minute. Fantastically fun bit of gear that uses magnets to resonate the strings. There is a book-end feel to this track it peaks early in terms of energy which leads us to…

Saint (9:01). Furthering the feel of the latter half of Everything All Of The Time. The album is drawing to a close now and Saint is a beautiful exercise in restraint.
“The notes you don’t play are just as important as the notes you do play” is a notion I’ve heard many times and said dozens of times myself when working with bands. It is something that I feel comes more easily with age, yet it is one of the hardest mantra’s to follow in music.

The reason Saint works is because it is so sparse, the notes are played then left for the delay and reverb to evolve into broader textural strokes. It’s the sort of discipline that I wish I had when I write music.

So there we have it, Solace. 10 years after release it speaks to a different part of my personality than it would have appealed when I first had it and lost it in my early 20s. I’m grateful to have rediscovered it and to have the opportunity to write about what this album means to me.

– Murray