Jack Drag

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Jack Drag , 6/10
Unisex Headwave , 7/10
Dope Box , 6.5/10
Soft Songs LP: Aviating , 5/10

Jack Drag used to be John Dragonetti's home-based project. Based in Boston, Dragonetti put out the single Velour (Summerville, 1994), the cassette The Many Many Songs Of Sad Boy (Devil's Weed, 1995), the single Loop (Devil's weed, 1996), and the album, Jack Drag (Devil's weed, 1996), that includes both singles, before someone noticed his love for the fuzz guitar, his visceral love for psychedelia, his genius at mixing and matching different style and his enormous melodic talent.

Unisex Headwave (Devil's weed, 1997), recorded with Joe Klompus on bass and Jason Sutter on drums, is an eclectic collection that runs the gamut from blues to hip-hop, from sound effects to plain ballads. Its highlights are seductive non-pop songs like Screw, Bad Mood and Tattoo, that manage to be both bizarre and anthemic, and surreal instrumentals like Hey Rod, but no less intriguing are the all-out experiments: the psychedelic freakout of Surfing The Charlies, the involute dub of Freakin' In Calistone, the skeletal Doors-ian atmosphere of Nilla Wafer.

By the time he and his two cohorts released the album Dope Box (A&M, 1998), the project had matured to the point of incorporating elements from different traditions. As a matter of fact, the album was virtually a compendium of everything that happened during the 1990s, from Pixies to Breeders, from Rage Against The Machine to Nine Inch Nails, from Beck to Jesus And Mary Chain. The resulting melange is both catchy and original, continuously changing while maintaining its melodic identity.
Debutante opens with a syncopated guitar riff and an industrial funk-rock rhythm. Then the guitar roars a Nirvana-like melody while a gentle, languid falsetto duets with a catchy piano pattern. Suddenly, the singer mutates in a psychotic Mr Hyde from a gallery of Nine Inch Nail's characters and the song explodes.
The boogie-paced fuzz guitar workout of Psycho Clogs well illustrates the technical skills that make this possible. Besides a terrific rhythm section, Dragonetti proves himself an extraordinary guitarist, equipped with an impressive array of tricks, one who has listened to ZZ Top's La Grange as well as to Pink Floyd's Astronomy Domine. The layered guitar effects are the ultimate secret of this album's successes. At the same time, the singing alternates between distorted and ethereal vocals, producing a disorienting effect: is this gentle pop or energetic hard-rock?
There is more than ambiguity to Jack Drag's program. These songs are built on irregularities, on fragments, on incomplete sub-songs. They change all the time.
Dragonetti is a lot less predictable than Beck, even if occasionally (I Feel Really O.K.) the praxis sounds very similar.
Things get a little easier with the infectious grooves and refrains of Seem So Tired (soft choral harmonies of folk-rock with even a shade of the Byrds' Eight Miles High) and Dope Box, and with the Merseybeat novelties Sinner's Delight (that would be considered a masterpiece on any Beatles album) and Tall Buildings (a masterful exercise in choruses, bridges and orchestral counterpoint), not to mention the mellow, strings-laden Where Are We.
The real delicacy comes at the end, Kung Fu Dub, in the form of a dubby, trippy instrumental, supercharged by loud drumming and galactic guitar effects. Dragonetti goes to heaven.

Following on the heels of the EP Junior Communist Club (Sugar Free, 1999), the fourth Jack Drag album, Soft Songs LP: Aviating (Sugar Free, 2000), is a completely different beast: it is, again, a solo album, like Jack Drag's debut, and it returns to a humnbler format. And it lasts only 30 minutes. The acoustic Aviating picks up where Where Are We left off. Crazy harks back to Jack Drag's psychedelic beginnings. The Only, Only One Parts 1 & 2 and the instrumental An Evening at the Boston Music Awards have a bit of Dope Box' oddball attitude, and the rocking At the Symphony finally wakes you up. Frankly, this set sounds like a bunch of leftovers.

The Sun Inside (Shifty Disco, 2002) is a monotonous collection of psychedelic-pop numbers set to a mechanical beat.

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