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Local band, Jesters Panic, drops sophomore album

October 4, 2007

My Book Report On Life, Jesters Panic’s sophomore effort, is a solid attempt to create an album that tries to make sense of everything that occurs before death. While it can be argued that summing up one’s life in nine songs is somewhat vague, the album does not try to prophesize and teach. It is simply a young band’s nostalgic vision of the first two decades of their mortality and, for the most part, they succeed in their delivery.

The local band from River Falls has been around for a few years. You may have seen them around campus previously, performing in the University Center or elsewhere, and you’ve probably heard the delicate melodies of Jamie DeGrolier. Her sound is astounding; meshed with the calm, jaunty vocals of Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon and the torch like, alt-country style of The New Pornographer’s Neko Case. The result is some really engaging singing made possible by the band’s main song writer, Mike Benoy.

As the sole song writer (save for “Bristol,” written by the band’s multi-saxophonist Mike Pearson), Benoy wants to invoke familiar feelings of lost friendships (“Here From Your Letter”), lost loves (“Frozen”) and remembering the best times (“Green”). He succeeds in the fact that there’s at least one song on the album that someone can find a connection to, something to relate. Benoy’s words aren’t Dylan, in the way that we feel the emotion, but they are cleverly crafted as relatable to anyone, with nothing to read between the lines.

Musically, the album borrows from influences such as 70s power anthems, like the album’s opener, “Jefferson Dr.,” which starts with a simple guitar riff and then explodes into a series of power chords. “Here From Your Letter” sounds like The Smiths’ guitarist Johnny Marr guest played, creating a familiar 80s rock vibe, while songs like “Boy’s Lie Girl’s Cry” matches the noise pop of the Smashing Pumpkins. Pearson’s saxophone kisses each song just delicately enough to sound fresh each time you hear it.

Considerable effort, considering the sax isn’t used as much in pop songs as it should be. My only complaint with the album is that I wish Jesters Panic would break out just a bit more and really define their sound. They’re off to a great start, no doubt, but there are songs that beg to be exposed just a little more. Take the closer “Hands.” While it starts off with a alien-like keyboard intro, not unfamiliar to The Steve Miller Band, it reverts to the basic guitar chords, drum beat and keyboard melodies that are featured in most pop songs heard today. The songs grab my interest for sure, but I don’t just want my mind soothed, I want it blown.

Here’s the best part (for your wallet) of My Book Report On Life: you can judge it for yourself, for free. You can download the entire walbum (what I’m calling a web album) from http://www.mybookreportonlife.com. You can check out their MySpace profile at http://www.myspace.com/jesterspanic.com for more info on the group.  Also of note, Jesters Panic will be playing on campus, for free, as part of the Homecoming kick-off party, at 4 p.m. Oct. 8 in front of Hathorn Hall.  Now that you’ve heard my opinion, make your own.

This group deserves a listen, at the very least, and you have no excuse not to.

Matthew Loosbrock is a student at UW-River Falls.