No smoke without fire: Smoke & Jackal’s ‘EP1’

Music and Art

Otis Graham reviews Smoke & Jackal’s EP1.

There is nothing more exciting than a supergroup. The idea of someone from one successful band coming together with someone from another is always enticing – think The Dead Weather or Them Crooked Vultures – and when the supergroup in question involves the lead singer of up-and-coming rock outfit Mona paired with the bassist from Kings of Leon the recipe gets really interesting. This is an exciting get-together; KOL bassist Jared Followill is part of one of the biggest bands on the planet (if that sounds hyperbolic then think of how many times you’ve heard “Sex On Fire” since 2008), and lead singer Nick Brown hails from one of the genre’s most meteoric new bands.

The context is entirely relevant, and it is impossible to listen to Smoke & Jackal’s EP1 without picking up on its influences. Mona have always been obviously influenced by Kings of Leon (both of the bands are from Nashville, Tennessee), and here the influence is compounded; the KOL-style interplay of pulsating basslines and searing, reverb-heavy vocals is at large throughout the EP. This is both a pro and a con; on the one hand the songs sound over-familiar (as in “Fall Around”, which could so easily be from Because of the Times), and on the other hand they just sound so damn good. Brown has certainly come into his own as a vocalist and he aptly rises to the challenge of matching the record’s sonics. The guitar alternates between spiky and soaring, and is complemented throughout by singing which rides the wave without ever being submerged by it.

So the pairing is certainly a harmonious one. Lead single “No Tell” is the work’s standout track; a chirpy and ironic song that channels KOL in all the right ways. EPs always profit from the blessings of brevity, and this record brings together six solid tracks in a comfortably self-confident way. Nonetheless, it is impossible to excuse its lack of ambition, because at times you can easily forget that you’re not listening to Kings of Leon. Supergroups work best when their members’ varied styles come together in harmony, but here the styles are clearly not varied enough. EP1 works and it sounds great, but occasionally you find yourself wondering why you’re not listening to “On Call” or Mona’s “Teenager” instead.

This is a minor gripe and maybe an unfair one. It remains to be seen whether or not Smoke and Jackal can forge a sound of their own, but they have begun their career in style and produced a record which brims with confidence and experience.