After debuting in 2008, Madison quartet A Minute Jack Forum briefly disappeared from local clubs in 2009 -- for "family-leave," as their website puts it. Since late last year they've been playing shows more regularly, and they've also been busy in the studio, recording tracks for their debut full-length album, Traction Blip. It will be unveiled at a happy hour show on Tuesday at the High Noon Saloon.
The project's beginnings date to 2005 and the self-dubbed "practice rock" duo of guitarists/vocalists Brian Thorpe and Matt Duranceau. They had migrated from Wausau to Madison in the 1990s, with the band Hobnob, but had been out of the local scene for a time. By 2007, another pair of veteran players made the band whole: bassist/singer David Leemkuil (of '90s Chicago rockers Five Mile Ceiling and, more recently, with a reunited version of Phil Gnarly and the Tough Guys), and drummer Ken Hale.
The time spent honing their sound before recording Traction Blip served A Minute Jack Forum well; their debut is a very smartly arranged, confident-sounding collection of guitar rock. There are enough hooky numbers to please guitar pop fans, and the occasionally suite-like song structures also provide the complexity to please listeners looking for something a bit more challenging.
The members' time spent in '90s indie bands can be heard clearly in A Minute Jack Forum's clean vs. fuzzed-out guitar interplay, a twin guitar attack that's not afraid to go for the bombast when it fits the song, as on album opener "Hello Patty". Thankfully there's much more going on than a retro recasting, as the group is subtly far-ranging stylistically -- which really begins to surface after several spins through the disc.
And though often complex, the songs are recorded organically enough that they won't lose out in the transition to a live setting -- it doesn't sound as if there's too much overdubbing on the disc. Overall, the mix of guitar textures, harmony vocals and careful album sequencing reminds this listener of a less roots-influenced, more prog version of Ha Ha Tonka's last album (since the two bands don't sound much alike, I'm not sure why this comparison has stuck in my mind, but it has).
"Don't Blame the Strings" is one of the catchier tracks on the album, and a good example of A Minute Jack Forum's ability to let a song's arrangement build slowly on itself. Says singer/lyricist Thorpe, via email: "'Don't Blame the Strings' (although certainly inspired by real-life encounters) is more a general reaction to the kind of person who eagerly, and often indirectly passes the buck, the blame, or offers insults. The lyrics contend that this person is also unwilling or unable to recognize his own faults and as a result, loses the respect of his peers."
Traction Blip was recorded at Blast House Studios, the former E Labs Multimedia facility which is now a part of the Madison Music Foundry family. "Blast House is a great facility, and Landon [Arkens, recording engineer] was a true professional," Thorpe says. "We're not likely the most challenging band he's recorded, but I think due to time/budget constraints or whatever, we pushed him a little here and there. He responded well to us, took our ideas in stride and was willing to offer an opinion, but never pushy."
And what of that unusual band name? Thorpe relates that he encountered the term minute jack in an online dictionary, defined as "A figure which strikes the hour on the bell of some fanciful clocks" and, alternately, a "timeserver."
"I was initially intrigued by the second definition," notes Thorpe. "So I dug a little deeper." The dictionary described timeserver as "One who conforms to the prevailing ways and opinions of one's time or condition for personal advantage; an opportunist."
"From this I imagine a minute jack forum as a boardroom full of bobbing heads and phony smiles, or perhaps (sadly) Washington. 'A' was chosen for its modesty over 'The.' It implies we're one of many versus the one and only," Thorpe says.
An MP3 of "Don't Blame the Strings" is available in the related files at right. More music by A Minute Jack Forum is available on its MySpace page. The band is playing a release show at the High Noon Saloon on Tuesday, July 20.
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