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Posted on February 19th, 2010 (2:22 am) by Michael Dippery

I’ll be honest. When I chose Jaga Jazzist’s latest offering, One-Armed Bandit, for review, I had no idea what to expect. I picked it mostly because I had recently been reading about Roald Amundsen and his quest to be the first explorer to the South Pole. The fact that Jaga Jazzist is a ten-piece band also hailing from Norway seemed too serendipitous to pass up.

I wasn’t disappointed. At first. The album, a set of nine instrumental pieces, achieves surprising depth and complexity in its sound. It starts off with “One-Armed Bandit” (after a brief twenty-three second introductory track), which layers a poppy 70s-style melody on top of a raunchy, synthesized guitar which breaks down into a sweeping melody over a synthesized xylophone-like beat for various interludes. Jaga Jazzist packs a fair number of layers into each track. The changes aren’t abrupt or sudden, but if you selected a track and skipped to random points, you’d find a significant degree of change in timbre and tempo from one point to another. It is the melody, however, that ties the whole track together.

Although I enjoyed the first song, the second, “Bananfluer Overalt,” made have second thoughts about the album. Staccato plucking punctuates the song’s slow, expansive melody. As I listened to it over my morning grapefruit, I felt like I had woken up in a campy 70s action flick. And that track sets the tone for the remainder of One-Armed Bandit: it sounds like a cheesy soundtrack from a 70s disaster movie. “Bananfluer Overalt,” along with the “220 V/Spektral,” has the feel and forced tension of a score that’s trying too hard to put you on the edge of your seat. Without the visual effect of a plane crashing or a skyscraper on fire, though, the music falls flat. The whole album reminds me of sans water (and without the star-studded cast). I kept expecting Burt Lancaster to interrupt my breakfast, I was never so lucky.

The feeling of tension continues in the next track, “Toccata,” which features an up-tempo melody combined with bass-heavy, bellowing brass and jazzy horns. For such a tense song, it continued on too long. In a movie, it’s conventional to have a resolution to rising action; “Toccata” made me expect a climax that never came. “Toccata” swelled into “Prognissekongen,” which at first kept up the pace and feel of “Toccata” before diverging into a frantic run of notes accented by dissonant keyboard chords.

In keeping with its soundtrack-like qualities, One-Armed Bandit makes for decent ambient music. As a purely an instrumental album, it provides a relaxing background when lying on your floor enjoying the scent of burning incense, or, I imagine, sitting in a nice warm bubble bath. That the album is devoid of lyrics means one’s thoughts can wander to one’s own concerns while being simultaneously swept up by the feeling of the music.

It’s not fair to focus solely on the “movie” feel of the album. In fact, by the time the final track, “Touch of Evil,” rolls around, the music has become fairly enjoyable. All good music should evoke an emotional response in the listener, and One-Armed Bandit evokes a pensive mood; I imagine that Jaga Jazzist would appreciate this result. “Touch of Evil” closes the album nicely: the end of the track features the sound of a helicopter, as if the album itself is exiting the scene as the music fades out.

The parting shot describes the overall feel of the album fairly well, actually. Despite its tacky movie soundtrack feel, it flows well from one track to another, and creates a relaxing feel from first track to last. Indeed, just like the movies it conjures, One-Armed Bandit starts off fast, the action rising to a final denouement at the conclusion of the album. At some points I found myself swept up by the spirit of the album, but I still couldn’t shrug off its kitschy feel. Overall, One-Armed Bandit is worth a listen, if only to give you the 70s vibe that you never got to witness firsthand because you were born a decade too late, but don’t expect it to become a staple of your iPod.

Track List:
1. The Thing Introduces…
2. One-Armed Bandit
3. Bananfluer Overalt
4. 220 V/Spektral
5. Toccata
6. Prognissekongen
7. Book of Glass
8. Music! Dance! Drama!
9. Touch of Evil

Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

58 / 100
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