Blame Jakob – Boundaries

It has been over half a year since Blame Jakob dropped “Pocketknife”, a single serving as the first glimpse at the shape of sounds to come. Though prior Bandcamp releases featured notably shorter-form and more pop-oriented songwriting, it was hard not to appreciate the marked ambition and conceptual maturity of the new material. Through a slightly-polished demo, “Pocketknife” showcased promising chemistry amongst the current members of a band whose lineup remains slightly amorphous. The song features singer Devyn Luzniak’s defiant poeticism and solid melodic sensibilities, Jake Soojian and Ethan Javage’s mix of rhythmic and slightly ambient guitar parts, and the way bassist Jakob Kahler and drummer Carson Hyde can flex their respective musical talents while still admirably serving their rhythmic duties. Revisiting the band’s first Bandcamp release “Tucked Away”, there’s evidence of an intense sonic evolution within the group.

The band’s latest EP, Boundaries, is the result of a freshman group finding balance among the ideas and stylistic inclinations of its various members, all within the trappings of basement-friendly indie-punk and alt-rock. It is at times both light-hearted and self-serious, melodic and rough. The inclusion of so many vocalists (and thereby a wealth of perspectives) deftly presents the impactful image of an overarching identity crisis, all while maintaining stylistic continuity. Whether it’s Dampman’s singing on “Sugar Cubes”, Luzniak on “Pocketknife”, or Soojian on “Happy Birthday”, each member’s struggles with the confusion, volatile emotions, and lack of control that epitomize young adulthood come across as Blame Jakob when all is said and done.

All said, the lackluster production on the EP is one especially treacherous pitfall that prevents Boundaries from being as enjoyable as it could be. Given their still amateurish status as undergrads from The University of the Arts who recorded each elements themselves, it’s understandable that the cymbals may sound as splashy as they do. The fact, however, is that most of the problems result from faulty mixing. Many DIY bands neglect to address this aspect to the point that it has basically become an aesthetic characteristic of the music. Moments that should feel climactic and be accentuated in the final mix (like the vocals in the breakdown of “Jakob’s Song”) instead sound dull and drowned out. These issues permeate the whole EP, as the bass is often either buried or sounds significantly scooped out, and the various guitar layers battle for dominance unless they’re singled out or intentionally creating a wall-o-sound. Strangely enough, certain songs are clearly mixed more skillfully than others, which begs the question of why these areas of foresight couldn’t have been more broadly administered. For instance, “Happy Birthday”, which is clearly supposed to slow-burn to a tense conclusion, is mixed such that its intended dynamic build-up sounds flat instead. Overall, the mixing renders everything as seemingly floating in a dynamic lower-middle ground, where even the more exciting breakdowns sound about as mellow as the quieter passages. “Chores” is probably the best-sounding song on the album in terms of mixing, wherein everything is provided its due space in the mix and even the extra vocals shine properly. This makes sense, considering the song stays fairly low-key throughout, but it stands to reason that this general approach would work favorably throughout the entirety of Boundaries

Impactful as these issues are, they do not completely negate the wonderful songwriting and performances on the album, and it stands to reason that all the aspects of this EP, good and not so good, have room to improve in a positive way. Blame Jakob bats around some wonderful concepts and deliver a genuine account of the uncontrollable gear shifts life throws into play even before we’ve learned the details of our own inner workings. The various perspectives enhance this mindset, and all of the songwriters are on the right track. It would be wise to consider another route for recording and production next time, as having one separate person in the driver’s seat would allow the sextet to hone what they’re best at: writing and playing. 

Pros: 

  • Heartfelt lyricism
  • Matured musical direction
  • Enjoyably lighthearted, engagingly serious

Cons:

  • Poor mixing ruins otherwise exciting parts of the album
  • Lackluster engineering

Listen here and let us know what you think in the comments below:

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