Jim And The French Vanilla - “Afraid of the House” LP
It’s Valentine's Day and you may be an asshole, but Dirtnap puts out another winner. As the bandcamp site says, this is “the solo project of Jim Blaha from The Blind Shake. This is his 3rd album under the Jim And The French Vanilla moniker, but the first to be made widely available.” Great! Good news for you dear reader!
Right from the first track, “When You’re Down,” we get power power power. Jim and his FV know how to take a guitar riff and work with it. They prove that you do not need a TON of chords to make meaning. They understand that vocals and harmonies are as important as chord progressions. Subtle changes to a chord (adding a note to make it clear it is a major chord for example) brighten and change the dynamic of the sound. It is okay to repeat a progression as long as there is something interesting happening somewhere.
Too analytic? Tough shit. The third track, “Back Home,” plays with guitar riffs in a way that creates a brooding atmosphere. There is a dreamy quality to the vocals which is a nice contrast to the sparse layers of occasionally dissonant guitar. Again, they prove here that one riff with some slight variation and a hooky chorus can create a powerful tune. Throw in some well-timed fuzz and there you go, you’re a fucking Rolling Stone.
There is a nice play of back and forth thoughtful mid-tempo stuff with the faster punky stuff here. Like a lot of Dirtnap’s acts, there is that bouncy, snotty feel ala Captain Sensible, with his fried egg shirt, tight jeans, and cig bouncing around stage like he could give a shit. That feel isn’t overdone here to the point of cliche. That’s a good thing.
Some of the later tracks on the record reflect that psych leaning, a departure from the sometimes Buzzcocky feel of songs like “Take it to the Grave,” but a welcome one which demonstrates a depth of musical character. “Not Even War” is killer. Makes me want to jump into the cold Black Sea.
Again, the real strength of this record is the ability of the band to construct interesting songs that are not overthought. They understand nuance and the importance of allowing a sound to breathe while giving a song personality with thoughtful lyrics.
Since I started putting vodka in my stout, songs like “Lonely Man” draw my attention even more. Don’t judge.
Favorite tracks: “When You’re Down” and “Back Home.”