Stylistically, Love as Laughter have jumped around a fair amount over 14 years of existence. Holy, the sixth release from frontman and founding member Sam Jayne (who seems to be the only consistent name attached, though drummer Zeke Howard has been around for the last three albums or so), finds his style no more grounded than in the past.
Holy centers around three genres influencing Jayne’s sound: a simple, singer-songwriter style folk, some sort of island calypso, and a heavy hitting garage rock revival. Instead of gently flowing from one into the next, which could actually be possible, ludicrous as it sounds in theory, the track listing jumps around, leaving the listener a little unsure of where they’re being lead.
It starts off rather basic with the title track, which begins with a strummed acoustic guitar, and Jayne’s affinity for absurd lyrics: “Holy’s never out of reach / I heard that demons don’t hit the beach.” One minute in, a ton of instruments and singers jump in, and it sounds like chaos. Beautiful chaos, but still chaos.
Most of the exotic island feel comes from the percussion, which incorporates conga drums or bongos. Occasionally they stand out almost too much, but at their most effective, they add an unusual pick-me-up to an otherwise relatively standard formula, like in “Crosseyed Beautiful Youngunz.” They also fit in well with the album’s most psychedelic moment, “All Parts of Me.”
Love as Laughter, “All Parts of Me” (download)
The awkward moments come when the garage rock completely takes over, on “Paul Revere,” “Peace” and “Bonnie & Clyde.” It’s not that the songs are poorly written, on their own, they argue that Love as Laughter could crossover into the genre completely and make a killing. Thrown amidst the delicate nature of everything else on Holy, however, they feel a bit out of place, like they’re working too hard for your attention.
There are times when Jayne successfully combines all three of these elements, and those are the most intriguing – and confounding. The percussion heavy folk of “Coconut Flakes” features the perky bongos and occasional electric guitar riffs in the distance, like the recording accidentally picked up someone playing in the next room and they decided to leave it in.
Holy feels almost jarringly all over the map, but with Love as Laughter, that’s not only to be expected, but part of the appeal. When Jayne’s the one navigating, it’s more interesting to get a little lost.