Release Date: May 21, 2013
Record label: Sub Pop
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Lo-Fi
With just about a decade passing between Denton, Texas outfit the Baptist Generals' 2003 debut No Silver/No Gold and the illustrious follow-up Jackleg Devotional to the Heart, the expectations for some classic hard-fought masterpiece-type album are high. Generals main songwriter Chris Flemmons certainly felt that pressure to turn in something timeless, having spent a good amount of time between albums recording, scrapping, and re-recording different versions of what became this final product, as well as avoiding the process completely while obsessive fans made jokes about lost albums and prodded for details about how work on the record was coming along. With all the time passing, life goes on outside of the indie rock bubble, and the days that fans spent waiting resulted in what's indeed a fantastic album, and one fixated on the way time passes, the effect of an artist's audience on the art, and life's general state of constant flux.
It took no less than a decade for the Baptist Generals to release their second full-length album, Jackleg Devotional to the Heart. Given frontman and songwriter Chris Flemmons’ reputation as a control freak, that might suggest 10 years of obsessive fussing, tinkering, and tweaking. Some fans wondered if the album would become the indie version of Chinese Democracy.
Distinguished by a sort of homespun musical ingenuity and front-porch experimentation, the Baptist Generals’ new album, Jackleg Devotional to the Heart, sounds like it’s built out of beer bottles, tin cans, lengths of rusted chain, assorted junkyard scraps, and unidentifiable whatchamabobs. Opener “Machine en Prolepsis” rigs a squelchy synth and a percussive acoustic strum into a whirligig rhythm that spins on pure gumption. “Oblivion” turns what sounds like incidental music from a home movie into a gyroscopic finale, ending in a rousing finale when the guitars and keyboards spin faster and faster.
Note: For the sake of brevity, this review will crudely reduce a broad and nuanced subgenre to the umbrella term 'Alternative Indie-ish Folk Or Something' (AIFOS). Let’s start with a segment from Stevie Chick’s defence of hand-knitted heartthrobs Neutral Milk Hotel. 'I can easily imagine kids, buzzed on their first viewing of Garden State, slipping a pair of headphones on the ears of their wannabe-beau and whispering "Neutral Milk Hotel will change your life," as the opening strums of "The King Of Carrot Flowers Pt 1" strike up.
Denton, Texas’ The Baptist Generals took 10 years to release their sophomore effort, during which time an entire album was scrapped before Jackleg Devotional to the Heart was finally complete. That apparent perfectionism was unfortunately misplaced, as the album starts off strong but ends up overcomplicated. The album was co-produced by Stuart Sikes, who has previously worked with Modest Mouse, and as a result, tracks like “3 Bromides” and the unfortunately titled “Clitorpus Christi” have a definite Built to Spill/Modest Mouse feel.
On their critically acclaimed 2003 release ‘No Silver / No Gold’, The Baptist Generals’ Chris Flemmons was all caught up in anguish and boozy tales. Fast forward ten years and the extremely long-awaited follow-up ‘Jackleg Devotional To The Heart’ finds him more on the topic of love. But this is by no means your fantasy love: there are no sweeping romances or happily-ever-afters here.