October 31, 2003

Shortcuts: The Joggers

Upon listening to the first track of The Joggers' debut album, one might be inclined to group them with fellow Northwest pop tunesmiths Death Cab for Cutie and the late, great Elliott Smith. "Loosen Up" begins with a fade-in to deft guitar picking, which leads into a delicate melody carried by three-part harmony andÂ…sleigh bells? It's quite lovely, actually.

However, the true precedent-setter for the rest of the album is the second track; "Hot Autism" sounds like a completely different band. In the song, Murphy Kasiewicz and Ben Whitesides's guitars launch into a sonic dogfight, dipping and darting past one another and in and out of drummer Jake Morris's schizophrenic backbeat. Darrell Bourque anchors the acrobatics with a versatile yet rock-solid bass line. Upon finishing the two-minute, 40-second gallop, it is clear that this Portland, Oregon-based quartet perhaps has more in common with the Northwest punk rock scene than its pop scene, more like early Sleater-Kinney than the Shins.

With the exception of the gentle "Loosen Up," Solid Guild consists of a dozen compact, dynamic pop-punk songs. The band manages to avoid any Blink-182 comparisons with lyrics that tend more to the wittily abstract than the juvenile and a team of three vocalists whose harmonies often recall a barber shop, um, trio. Together with Whitesides's slightly nasal lead vocals, these elements cohere to create a sound that is catchy, frenetic, clever, and overall, a blast. Who says that pop-punk has to be dumb fun?