The Drams – Jubilee Dive

Jubilee Dive (as the Drams) (2006)

A-

1. Truth Lies Low 2. Hummalong 3. Holy Moses 4. Unhinged 5. Fireflies 6. September’s High 7. You Won’t Forget 8. You & Me, MF 9. When You’re Tired 10. Shortsighted 11. Crudely Drawn 12. Make a Book 13. Des Moines 14. Wonderous Life

 

I saw Hereditary last week and after the overwhelming sense of dread and fear that I was going to spot a naked Satanist creepily grinning at me from the corner of my darkened bedroom, I started thinking about how Ari Aster is probably going to end up directing Iron Man 12 or the inevitable dark, gritty reboot of Creature From the Black Lagoon or something. That’s the way it goes these days, right? Young, talented filmmakers like Aster make a couple of original, critically acclaimed flicks that might actually challenge the audience and then get promptly scooped up by a huge studio to lend some indie cred to one of their mega-franchises. Because I am not a cynical snob, this actually doesn’t bother me. I like watching Star Wars and Marvel movies, and I’d rather see people like Christopher Nolan or Sam Raimi imbue some art into those kinds of IPs than hacks like Joel Schumacher or Brett Ratner turn them into numbskulled popcorn accompaniment. No doubt the truckloads of money Disney et al. can drop on directors’ front lawns is the primary factor behind why this career trajectory is becoming more and more common. But that doesn’t mean deciding to make a crowd-pleasing superhero movie isn’t a valid artistic choice! Even if your previous films are about an evil demon who makes you saw off your own head with a wire. For instance.

Oh, spoilers, I guess.

Anyway, I swear this discussion is relevant because it sort of describes what Brent Best did by giving Slobberbone a brief second life as the Drams, and explains why I like the only album they did, Jubilee Dive, so much. Where Slobberbone was sloppy, and twangy, Jubilee Dive wears a warm, poppy sheen proudly on its sleeve. Where Slobberbone’s were dark and visceral, those on Jubilee Dive are generally fit for general audiences and their delicate sensibilities – heck, there’s only one song about passing out drunk! Brent does say “shit” once, but it’s delivered in such a friendly way, on “Shortsighted,” it comes across like the single allotted curse word in a PG-13 movie. Basically, in Brent’s catalog, Jubilee Dive is Thor: Ragnarok to Everything You Thought Was Right Was Wrong Today’s What We Do in the Shadows. The difference being that there was no big payday or corporate suit compelling him to make it. It’s just what he felt like doing at the time. It came four years after the last Slobberbone album, and the record-buying public didn’t give a crap about Slobberbone in the first place. And it’s not like the type of ‘60s pop-inflected classic rock found on this album was burning up the charts in 2006 anyway. He couldn’t have actually expected that Jubilee Dive was going to be, like, a hit. If anything, he might have expected it to alienate his paltry existing fanbase. He was just following his muse.

One could have definitely seen the change in direction coming from Slippage’s poppier moments, but it’s impressive how drastically different Jubilee Dive’s sonic character is compared to any of Slobberbone’s stuff – like the difference between a soft, fluffy pillow and a straw mattress. Especially since the Drams are, or were, the same guys as Slobberbone – give or take a new bass player (Keith Killoren) and, more crucially, a keyboard player (the outstandingly surnamed Chad Stockslager). Stockslager’s contributions are what distinguish Jubilee Dive from Slobberbone material on an immediate level – particularly the orchestra of mellotrons on the straight-outta-’67 suite “You Won’t Forget,” but throughout the album, like the Dylanesque organ fills on “Shortsighted” or the pulsating Wurlitzer on “Make a Book.” But anything more than a cursory listen reveals that it’s not just the keyboards – Brent is in a completely separate songwriting mode than he was with Slobberbone, and he’s still knocking it out of the park.

There are a couple of exceptions that, with their acoustic strumminess and comparatively downbeat tone could have conceivably been Slobberbone songs had they featured more down home instrumentation and lyrics about spousal murder – namely “Des Moines,” “September’s High,” and especially the slow, world-weary Western plains epic “When You’re Tired,” one of my favorite Brent Best songs. But there’s still a marked difference between Drams songs and Slobberbone songs at the core. The rock riffs aren’t dirty and grimy; they’re big and soaring (“Unhinged,” “Truth Lies Low”). The acoustic songs aren’t twangy, they’re poppy (the irresistibly sweet and cheery summertime reverie “Fireflies”). On a basic structural level, there’s not a whole lot separating “Holy Moses” from “I Can Tell Your Love Is Waning”–they’re both sort of drunken Texan takes on soft-loud power ballads–but the vibe is drastically different. What “Holy Moses” lacks in the viscerality of “Waning,” it compensates for in triumphant bombast, all huge, fist-pumping chords and rolling organ on the chorus.

Obviously, some hardcore Slobberbone fans might still take exception to these significant stylistic departures. But since hardcore Slobberbone fans are more rarely encountered than actors in Hollywood who haven’t committed some type of sexual misconduct, I haven’t had much occasion to confirm that assumption and I don’t care if they do. Jubilee Dive was the first “Slobberbone” album I heard, back in high school, probably very shortly after it came out, and it reminded me of what I loved about all the ‘60s and ‘70s classic rock records I spent all my time listening to over and over again back then like I was a 58-year old grandpa. Having since grown into the gritty Slobberbone aesthetic, Jubilee Dive’s slickness is a little less appealing than it was back then. But it’s got hooks, man. All the damn hooks.



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