It seems like good, old-fashioned chamber pop (i.e., circa 2006) is in relatively short supply these days. That's fine, especially considering that it might've been one of the more overdone genres to blow up in the early-2000s indie scene, but I've been a little sad to see it go nonetheless. I think I'll always have a soft spot for the acoustic guitars, bowed strings, and overly-earnest lyrics of bands like Sea Wolf and Ra Ra Riot (the latter of whom, somewhat inexplicably and abruptly, went full-'80s retro synthpop on their last LP).
That's why, in a scene that's currently dominated by electronic music and bizarre, experimental psychedelia—don't get me wrong, I love it—I'm always happy to see new groups revisiting the style with a contemporary ear. New Jersey six-piece Stolen Jars (it seems to be a rule that you can't do chamber pop with fewer than five people) are the latest to tug at my nostalgic heartstrings with their gorgeous, artfully-crafted album Kept.
There's a really excellent pacing and flow to the record, which transitions seamlessly from playful, Belle and Sebastian-esque songs like "Another November" to somewhat mournful tracks like "Glow." Though the vocals alternate between Molly Grund's cutesy anecdotes and Cody Fitzgerald's heartfelt pleas (which sound a lot like Justin Vernon in some parts), the sound remains remarkably consistent.
The key, I think, is Stolen Jars' unmistakable percussion. Throughout every song runs a thread of snare-rim clicks and clacks, which gives the whole thing an organic, almost woodsy atmosphere. But more than that, it keeps things upbeat on tracks that might otherwise be a bit too morose for their own good, and along with some well-placed handclaps drives the album to be more energetic than a lot of its contemporaries.
I think it would be redundant at this point to say that I'm really, really enjoying Kept. My only complaint is that it feels a little short (some might say extremely short for an LP, coming in at just 37 minutes), but I think that works in the band's favor. Any longer and it might run the risk of becoming monotonous. As it stands, though, Stolen Jars' sophomore effort is a truly cohesive record, and one I'd recommend to those who fell in love with indie music ten or fifteen years ago.
Scratch that, actually. I'd recommend it to anyone.