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Jolly: The Audio Guide to Happiness (Part 2)

Though at times it's hard to tell if it's intentional or not, the concept behind Jolly's two-part LP The Audio Guide to Happiness is pretty damn funny. Every now and then, in the brief "Guidances," a clinical, almost robotic voice instructs the listener as to how the music should be experienced; these continue until the fourth "Guidance," the point by which the listener should have achieved "happiness." The techy, emotionally distant aspects of prog—the endless guitar soloing, overly grandiose arrangements, and the overeager Julliard freshman compositional style—are the most frequently publicized, and generically speaking you don't go to prog to have your heartstrings tugged at. For that reason, the though of a prog band collaborating with academics on how to manufacture music designed to psychologically appeal to their audience is perhaps the ultimate nerd joke: if you can't win them over with the music you typically write, use science to fix it!

Fortunately, there's no forced emotion on The Audio Guide to Happiness (Part 2), the followup to 2011's Part One. Part Two carries on in the metallic neo-prog of Part One, though it's much more successful. Like most contemporary prog metal, the record can be called "suite-like" or "labyrinthine" in its composition, but what's remarkable about Jolly's style is their ability to make the whole album feel like one song while retaining the individuality of all the individual tracks. The whole thing flows seamlessly, though it does have a clear division following "Guidance Four." The relatively heavier first half gives way to a much poppier final stretch.

It's in this split that Part Two finds its biggest weakness. After "Guidance Three" re-establishes the therapeutic theme of the LP, "Firewall" kicks things off with gusto. Full of melodic death metal guitar lines and great vocal melodies, "Firewall" is one of the best prog tracks of 2013 thus far, a perfect example of how to balance brutality and beauty. Strangely enough, however, the energy of that track doesn't carry on through the rest of the album; Part Two peaks pretty early. Opportunities like "Dust Nation Bleak"—which kinda pulls of a guitar tone most would ordinarily dismiss as too djent-y—are largely underutilized. While a name like Jolly would seem to suggest that these guys are keen on peppy pop, Jolly the prog metal band are eminently more interesting than Jolly the pop band, and for the rest of the LP it's the latter that starts to edge out the former. Case in point "Lucky," which places a sugar-sweet synth-pop melody atop a matching chunky guitar riff, to a very uneven effect; imagine Carly Rae Jepsen commissioning Killswitch Engage to co-write a song with her and you wouldn't be far off.

There are instances where exceptions to this arise. "You Against the World" is the ballad Dream Theater's "Wither" still wishes it could be, and "While We Slept in Burning Shades" is a solid mid-tempo piece that fittingly winds down the album. In the end the cumbersome balance of metal's crunch and pop's sing-songiness doesn't outweigh the overall strength of The Audio Guide to Happiness (Part 2); maybe it's evidence that the journey to happiness isn't one free of perfections. This is a strong prog record, and it's a sign that Jolly are one of prog's true up-and-coming bands.

Track Listing

01. Guidance Three
02. Firewall
03. You Against the World
04. Aqualand and the 7 Suns
05. Dust Nation Bleak
06. Golden Divide
07. Guidance Four
08. Lucky
09. While We Slept in Burning Shades
10. Despite the Shell
11. As Heard on Tape
12. The Grand Utopia

Added: April 14th 2013
Reviewer: Brice Ezell
Related Link: Band Site
Hits: 4169
Language: english

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Jolly: The Audio Guide to Happiness (Part 2)
Posted by Jeff B, SoT Staff Writer on 2013-04-14 21:08:08
My Score:

New York's Jolly is a band that really popped on my radar after hearing 2011's The Audio Guide to Happiness, Part One, as their unique mix of progressive rock, alternative, metal, and pop sensibility immediately set them apart from other progressive acts I was hearing at the time. Two years later, and Jolly have left me with a similar impression on their second (and final) installment in the series; Jolly conjures a one-of-a-kind atmosphere with their music, and they also posses the compositional and technical finesse to make the unique ambiance of their sound damn enjoyable to listen to. If anyone was unsure how this band was able to capture touring spots with acts like Riverside and Flying Colors, The Audio Guide to Happiness, Part Two provides a sufficient explanation why - a masterful expression of mood, atmosphere, and attention to detail, this is one of 2013's early musical highlights in my mind.

The style of music heard on The Audio Guide to Happiness, Part Two could best be described as progressive metal, although Jolly hardly resembles 'traditional' prog metal acts like Dream Theater or Fates Warning. The focus is largely geared towards moody and intense atmospheres not too dissimilar from recent Porcupine Tree or Marillion efforts, albeit with more deviations into alternative pop, metal, and even electronic territory. Jolly aren't afraid to incorporate some damn heavy guitar grooves into their music (there are even some harsh vocals in the dynamic "Firewall"!), as well as plenty of catchy melodies and strong hooks; while Jolly are perhaps not the most traditionally 'prog' band out there, their complex, eclectic, and highly atmospheric sound should grab the attention of most progressive metal listeners.

Fortunately, Jolly's excellence transcends their stylistic originality, as their talent as composers and performers is apparent throughout all of The Audio Guide to Happiness, Part Two. Although their playing styles are not particularly flashy, Jolly demonstrates their talents through detailed compositions and professional musicianship across the board - things like the atmospheric build in "Despite the Shell" (and the magnificent guitar solo that soon follows!) or the strong dynamic variation in "Firewall" are the mark of some truly skilled composers. What perhaps amazes me most about Jolly is that, even though their music is quite complex when closely analyzed, it manages to come across as accessible and almost pop-like to the more casual listener; the result is an album that is enjoyable on first listen, but still reveals new details with each new listening session.

As enthusiastic as I was (and still am) about The Audio Guide to Happiness, Part One, this installment is more mature and refined than its already superb predecessor. If compelling atmospheres, tasteful musicianship, and strong melodies are what you crave from progressive metal, Jolly should be on your radar - this album proves that they are part of the genre's upper echelon without a doubt!

Jolly: The Audio Guide to Happiness (Part 2)
Posted by Steven Reid, SoT Staff Writer on 2013-03-27 18:15:01
My Score:

Following on, rather obviously, from their The Audio Guide To Happiness Part 1, Jolly serve up ...Part 2, an album that is no less divisive or confused than its predecessor. The whole purpose of the two part concept is for the band to collaborate with academics, ultimately to create music that leads the listener to "happiness". Now if that sounds as hair-brained as most music related scientific research does - it is. The end results being confused, confusing and in places damn impressive. However being satisfying seldom comes into it and therefore happiness it ain't. Prog, pop, death metal, prog metal, funk, they all jostle with each other, sometimes within one song, sometimes from track to track, resulting in a mix that loses focus and causes you to lose interest as it does so.

It isn't all bad news, far from it truth be told, with "Firewall", which follows on from one of many "public announcements" that introduce listening ideas and ideals, spitting and riffing with intent. An album of this keyboard infused brutality that often takes its foot right off the accelerator to leave a vision of melody in its wake, could have been stunning, the dual vocals of guitarist Anadale and bassist Anthony Rondinone meshing supremely. However for every moment like that, there's a meandering counterpoint in the shape of "You Against The World", which just fails to bring any excitement, or "While We Slept In Burning Shades" which only infuses its final two minutes or so from five, with any real sense of purpose and even then, only just. The quartet, rounded out by the stunning drumming of Louis Abramson and fantastic keyboard playing of Joe Reilly are all accomplished musicians and it is impossible to criticise them on that front, something the Wildhearts meets King Crimson of "Dust Nation Bleak" illustrates perfectly. Unfortunately it just isn't enough when the song quality doesn't maintain at that high level for long periods of this album.

I've had TAGTH2 sitting impatiently waiting for review for some time now, with the hope that seeing the band live, supporting Polish prog-masters Riverside, would somehow make this muddled vision a whole lot less fogged. However, experiencing some of this album and Part 1 up-close, left an even stronger impression of a band trying to be all things to all men and more often than not being less than the sum of their parts. Hopefully with us all now apparently led to musical happiness, Jolly can get on with making the sort of music they are best at. They'll be so much the better for it.

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