Adult Jazz – So Sorry So Slow

A powerhouse of skewed pop...

Music can always surprise you. This year I was shocked, and delighted, to see the words Adult and Jazz appear in my emails. I opened the email tentatively, in case this was an email about the genre adult jazz, but it wasn’t. It was telling me that the alt-pop quartet were returning with a new album and a handful of gigs. For the next few hours, or so, I was transported back to when I first came across the band, supporting Young Marble Giants at the Royal Festival Hall, London, as part of David Byrne’s Meltdown Festival in 2015. Before the gig I had no idea who they band were, but on the way home I bought their debut album and single online. Their new album is called, tongue firmly placed in cheeks, ‘So Sorry So Slow’ and it picks up where they left off. 

“How long” are the first words on the album. How long indeed Adult Jazz? It’s been a decade since their glorious debut ‘Gist Is’ and eight years since their unfairly slept on follow up EP ‘Earrings Off!’. In all fairness I thought they’d broken up. But they hadn’t. Instead, they started recording a follow up in 2017, but as they weren’t really on the clock it just kept getting pushed back until it was done. 

‘Bleat Melisma’ kicks off with a ramshackle rhythm that sounds like it was played on paint cans; under this sonorous bass swells. When Harry Burgess’ unique vocals join the rest of the band it feels like they’ve never been away. ‘Suffer One’ features a wonderful string section in the final third. Instead of being enveloped in the luscious sounds, or repeatedly stabbed with them, the music is somewhere between the two. Though never aggressive or challenging you need to keep your guard up on the first few listens.

‘No Relief’ is the poppiest track on the album, and the one that has the most in common with their debut. A back-and-forth melody does the majority of the heavy lifting. Over, though, and around this Burgess’ vocals tell their stories of love, loss and redemption. Just after the halfway mark the music starts to fragment slightly. Mid vocals the instruments have a bit of a breakdown and deliver these striking freak outs. These avant garde motifs really add to Burgess’ impassioned lyrics: “In the morning I find a reason to wake him up. In his stillness he has me buzzing like a wasp”. Is Burgess saying that he is buzzing in a good way, or it’s a nervous energy that he cannot control, and this will eventually wake him up? Its these kinds of abstract lyrics, which made Adult Jazz’s music so enjoyable to listen to and to decipher what is actually going on.

Later he sings “I don’t mind if he bores me. If sometimes he ignores me”. That doesn’t sound very good, does it? Lead single ‘Dusk Song’ also features some glorious lyrics: “If he led us here, where is he? Here. / Will it be a final sun set on me? Here. / Suddenly a sun, yellowing on me. Here. / Feel the sting. A string creeping in”. While there is a level of abstraction, the setting sun seems to hint to the end of a relationship. Musically broody horns swell around us. Think foghorn and you are on the right lines. Everything feels moody and sad. However, there are stabs at hope catchy melodies lurking just below the dank blasts. 

Despite the joy of having an old friend back in your life there are a few downsides. The majority of the songs are, well, on the slow side. While none of them drag, it might have been interesting to have some slightly faster paced songs. You know, to break up the sameness throughout. Take ‘Plenary’ for example. After the sonic explosions peppered throughout ‘No Relief’ ‘Plenary’ feels like the band are playing it safe. There is a few big bass motifs, but overall its very pedestrian. This of course feels like a dick move on my behalf. The album is a joy to listen to, but a few changes in pace, and tone, would really have taken it to a top tier listening experience. 

Throughout ‘So Sorry So Slow’ we are reminded what a powerhouse of skewed pop the band were, and luckily, still are. Their melodies are subversive. Really catchy but broken up in a way that beguiles their beauty. Let’s hope it isn’t another decade until their next album, but if it is when we’ll know it’ll be worth the wait. 

8/10

Words: Nick Roseblade

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