Album Review: The Jackets – Queen of the Pill

Ever since Tim Warren slapped the Crypt Records logo on the first Back From The Grave compilation in 1983, there has been no stopping the trajectory of a subgenre’s influence and the stranglehold it has placed on cultures aboard. It’s been 36 years since that record went into press and the garage punk phenomenon has only blown up from obscure, amateurish lo-fi recordings to a full-blown cultural movement around the world that has resurrected interest in those old groups and birthed generations and waves of groups today.

Making headways due to these early efforts is a Swiss garage rock group called The Jackets who achieved a breakthrough with their wild and fuzz-laden third LP, Shadows of Sound, released in 2015 on Voodoo Rhythm Records. The album harnesses a hypnotic sensibility in part to its artwork’s graphical layout, and singer/guitarists, Jackie Brutsche’s fuzz overdriven riffs sounding like a contemporary take on a mid-60s obscure British Invasion group meets the Detroit proto-punk revival. If they’re going the nostalgia route, they should keep it up as they’re not stripping it of its merit and reintroducing an older sound infused with all aspects of punk rock to a new, lowbrow, more tech-savvy generation. Shadows of Sound proves you can do that and their return to Voodoo Rhythm with their new LP, Queen of the Pill, builds on this triumph.

They brought on some names with this release and hinted in 2017 at one of them with the mention of expat garage rocker King Khan’s involvement with the making of Queen of the Pill, only released as a two-track 7” EP at the time. The production is lo-fi and stripped on that one, they another heavy hitter like Jim Diamond, a man whose recorded practically every band in Detroit’s 1990s garage rock scene, to the end game of the production helm after having Nene Barrato (Movie Star Junkies) make the first pass in the initial recording sessions in Berlin.

Not delving from the underlying hypnotic element that was present in Shadows of Sound, Queen of the Pill’s lead-off track “Dreamer” opens with Brutsche’s familiar slow build up riff before bassist Sam Schimidger layers it with dexterous bass lines and drummer Chris Rosales speeds up the pace on the battery end. Brutsche is the first person you’ll notice when looking at photos of the three in action with her acrobatic stage performance while clad in black donning Alice Cooper eye-makeup. An artist, by all means, she contributes much to the songwriting of The Jackets when she’s not leading a career as a multifaceted artist, musician, filmmaker, and playwright around Europe.

This record also shows they’re comfortable going away from just being an explosive garage punk band to experimenting with different playing styles and bending their genre a bit.  “Floating Alice,” is one of the more exotic sounding tracks in this record, likely their catalog to say, as it utilizes different arrangements rooted in Eastern music along with their head on garage punk sound. Think of a more upbeat rendition of X’s “Adult Books, and you’ll get the idea. The lyrics spin a heavy tale of intergalactic heartbreak as Brutsche narrates the perspective of a woman astronaut slowly drifting away from her lover while peering over earth: “I’ve got you in my mind for a while now/Time will not bring back your smile/The stars shine so bright as I’m getting lost/Slowly fading away, at any cost.”

Between abstract storytelling and personal experiences such as the ‘77 punk-influenced “What About You” is based upon the former relationship of one member, the songwriting and lyrical themes nod towards former flames and the band’s growth and development throughout the years. Brutsche’s venomous tirade in “Losers Lullaby” is a template that anyone with a sad excuse of an ex-partner can certainly relate with a copy and paste a closure letter towards the offender: “I lost your wallet & your photograph/I cashed your check, and I sold your stash/You’re a liar & I’m tired of you.” The “Move On” riff harks the energy Wayne Kramer must have harnessed during that fateful day at Wayne State on July 19th 1970 with an agro swing of the hip shake and groove feel with lyrics construing a flip of the switch viewpoint from person severing a relationship.  However, it’s “Deeper Way,” a track drummer Rosales wrote about the growing pains these three have gone through over the years, that pulls all the punches with a strong bulldozer-like opening riff from Brutsche that shows her harder side along with dynamic support from Rosales and Schmidiger on the harmony ends.

The fringe music will prevail, it’s an outsider perspective that keeps things original and interesting, and always will. The Jackets are doing just that but stand out well amongst the crowd. Get down with them or move aside.

– Review by Matthew Hutchison


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