Love as Laughter kind of meandered to a pause after 2001's fabulous Sea to Shining Sea. But that's not the same thing as being inactive. Sam Jayne put together a solo album and moved to New York City, where he got to performing troubadour-like quite regularly. While LAL were away, a lot of people started noticing the Shins -- another Sub Pop band making literate, charmingly weary little songs -- and those same listeners will love Laughter's Fifth. (Naturally, the veteran Jayne aficionados don't need to be cajoled.) Fifth isn't as loud as Sea. It has those moments -- the rich, ringing-out chords of "I Won't Hurt You," for example. But "In Amber" and "Idol Worship! Idol Worship!" are instead shaggy pop songs tweaked with knowing bents toward gettin' older and bein' cynical. The latter starts out with just Jayne and his acoustic before he's joined by chirping organ and some great layers of electric guitar. By the times the drums kick in, the song's transformed itself into a loose, good-naturedly stomping rocker of the sort Ryan Adams might never write again. Jayne doesn't wow you with grand lyrical imagery. He doesn't even have that great of a singing voice. But his skills work wonders nevertheless, letting him mask a song's gravity behind tousled, self-cut bangs or an easygoing pat on the back. "Every Midnight Song" is like that. It sneaks up on you, and not only because it starts with just the gentlest of notes. "Every midnight song," Jayne begins with a breath, "I'm gonna wait 'til that song comes on/Because after that nothing can go wrong." He continues on, sketching a picture, and the track rises to a frantic high point of crashing cymbals before falling once again to the original lyric. It's the sort of song you get lost in live, or place in the center of a mixtape as a bridge to the quiet stuff. Laughter's Fifth continues with a little copping of Malkmus ("Dirty Lives"), name-checking of 50 Cent (the N.Y.C. tribute "Canal Street"), and buoyant reminders of past LAL records ("I'm a Ghost"). Jayne sounds like one of Elmore Leonard's trashy antiheroes on the lazily drunk "Corona Extra" (it has kazoo solos, seagulls, surf), and the meandering "Pulsar Radio" taps a vintage drum-machine beat over raw organ tones like the remnants of a new wave love ballad. This is an album for pop fans as well as guys who just dig the instrumentation. It's personal, it's cryptic, it's hilarious -- it's Laughter's Fifth, and Sam Jayne is definitely some kind of genius.
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AllMusic Review by Johnny Loftus