It’s been a long laborious journey, a tale of failed record labels, broken equipment and broken hands but finally, Hawkes Bay post-rock band Jakob have returned with their fourth full-length album, Sines.
And it’s a return I welcome. Their three prior albums are amongst my favourite albums, both post-rock and of New Zealand artists, but not having heard anything from them for so long had me wondering if this band had quietly faded away, like some of their epic soundscapes can fade away with a shimmer of echoing guitar.
But no, they’re back. Rumours began to swirl mid-year, early copies of the album were released to some media and influencers, and the day the album went onto pre-sale I ordered my copy. Then, a few weeks ago, it arrived in the letterbox, and since then I’ve been listening to it frequently, letting it seep in, letting it reveal its full beauty.
Because this is a beautiful album; full of the emotional intensity, tension and release that has marked the sound of this trio over the last decade or so. The songs build from subtle beginnings, washes of trebly guitar accompanied by rolling drums and looming bass, before exploding into layers of distortion and noise.
The album’s opening track, ‘Blind Them With Science’, sits well within the style that Jakob most commonly inhabit, and from within which they produce some of the best music of their genre. Building slowly with Jeff Boyle’s layered, swooping guitars before Jason Johnston’s drums and and Maurice Beckett’s bass lurch in, like a looming behemoth lumbering in through the mist. Then, Boyle’s guitar opens up, digital delay drenching a percussive, trebly sound, rising from under the rhythm until it expands and soars. The guitar flying free as Johnston starts to bring the cymbals into the mix.
But from as early as the album’s second track, ‘Emergent’, it becomes apparent that on Sines Jakob are spreading their musical wings, finding new musical words to express their post-rock language. Here gorgeous strings arranged by Rhian Sheehan provide the core. Boyle’s guitar and Beckett’s bass simply circle around a repetitive, hypnotic motif, as the strings creep in, gently at first, then swelling, soaring, letting the musical landscape bask as if under a rising sun.
The strings also make a heart-wrenching reappearance on ‘Harmonia’, the song concluding with their aching sadness where, in the past, Jakob would’ve let the guitar spiral down to bring the song to a fade. It’s a maturing of their sound, a grasping of other colours within the sonic palate that allow them to paint their musical soundscapes with colours both brighter and darker than ever before.
Still, I can’t quite grasp the album with as much adoration as some others have. It’s great; and a great ‘next-step’ for this band that’s been a long time coming. However, I somehow get a sense that it could’ve perhaps been even more. Hearing about the equipment failures that occurred during recording at Roundhouse, and the insufficient time allowed for both the initial recording and mixing makes me wonder if this album is really all that it could be.
Or perhaps that’s just the lingering feeling I’m left with after the album ends with the title track, a five-minute drone of guitar swoops and swoons that feels formless, unshaped. While it’s moving, and moody, it makes me wonder if the song ‘Sines’ – and the album itself – could’ve been even more.
And that leaves me with hope. I’m not frustrated that Sines leaves me wanting more; rather I’m excited. I hope that this album’s long-awaited release indicates that we will both see and hear more from Jakob in the near future. Boyle’s indicated he wants to get back into the studio soon, and with with what Sines has shown Jakob are now pointing themselves towards I’m going to be very eager to here what they do next.
But, in the meantime, if Sines may not be the finest album Jakob have yet done (for me, that’s still 2008’s Solace), with ‘Resolve’ they’ve presented what may be their finest nine minutes of music ever. Because, after three minutes of build this song explodes into a massive wall of sound with Boyle’s guitar hitting a percussive, sharp tone he’s never achieved before. And as his guitar clatters along, lurching drunkenly, prettily above the rumbling drums and bass, I throw my head back, bask in the sound. Vast; massive; the beauty of the sound of open spaces and darkness complete.
Beer match: I’d pair this album with the ‘Freyja’, a “California Common” or “Steam Ale” from Christchurch’s Valkyrie Brewing. This beer is rich, deeply dark, but with a generous hop profile that arrives in the mouth with a crisp snap, before leaving a long, lingering, beautiful aftertaste. It matches the build; the release and fade of Jakob’s instrumental songs well.