Jars of Clay

The Long Fall Back to Earth

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For all the critical adoration lavished on them over the years, the biggest thorn in Jars of Clay's side continues to be their critics. In the 15 or so years the band has been in operation, CCM scribes have time and again missed the boat and misconstrued them as something they're not: a rock group. Somewhere, somehow, someone once decided to christen them that, and since then everyone has pretty much run with it. A more fitting home for the foursome is in the realm of alternative pop, particularly in light of The Long Fall Back to Earth, their first non-seasonal full-length as an independent, and easily their most fanciful recordings to date. Sure to surprise even the staunchest Jarheads, The Long Fall sees the quartet adopting, in varying degrees, the electronic pop stylings of David Bowie, the Flaming Lips, and MGMT, partially furloughing their live rhythm section in favor of one inspired by the ‘80s -- keyboardist Charlie Lowell must've had a field day. The bass-drum dynamic was never critical to their method, anyway, so all the electronic gadgetry happens to suit them well, particularly in bouncy, joyful anthems like "Closer" and "Don't Stop," where the synth-tastic nature of the cuts belies the overall somber tone of the entire record. It all makes for an apt, if not a bit harrowing accompaniment to the album's theme -- a stark, honest-to-God look at human relationships, warts and all. Occasionally, the sentiments tend towards the mushy ("There Might Be a Light," "Heart"), but, on the whole, the Jars clan is too cerebral to play it safe with boy-meets-girl pleasantries. Instead, they are at their best when they offer candid snapshots on everything from breaking up ("Headphones") to forgiving oneself ("Boys"), and reconciliation ("Safe to Land"). The endings aren't always happy, much less conclusive, but they're otherwise genuine and true to the messiness of life's interactions. This commitment to authenticity and the band's refusal to not spell everything out for the listener are what makes The Long Fall Back to Earth a rewarding project -- perhaps not their most accessible, but certainly one that grows more meaningful each time around.

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