Jack Drag used to be John Dragonetti's home-based project. Based in
Boston, Dragonetti put out
the single Velour (Summerville, 1994),
the cassette The Many Many Songs Of Sad Boy (Devil's Weed, 1995),
the single Loop (Devil's weed, 1996), and
the album, Jack Drag (Devil's weed, 1996), that includes both
before someone noticed
his love for the fuzz guitar, his visceral love for psychedelia, his genius
at mixing and matching different style and his enormous melodic talent.
Unisex Headwave (Devil's weed, 1997), recorded with
Joe Klompus on bass and Jason Sutter on drums,
is an eclectic collection that
runs the gamut from blues to hip-hop, from
sound effects to plain ballads.
Its highlights are seductive non-pop songs like
Screw, Bad Mood and Tattoo,
that manage to be both bizarre and anthemic,
and surreal instrumentals like Hey Rod, but no less intriguing are the
all-out experiments: the psychedelic freakout of Surfing The Charlies,
the involute dub of Freakin' In Calistone, the skeletal Doors-ian
atmosphere of Nilla Wafer.
By the time he and his two cohorts released the
album Dope Box (A&M, 1998), the project had matured to the point of
incorporating elements from different traditions.
As a matter of fact,
the album was virtually a compendium of everything
that happened during the 1990s, from
Rage Against The Machine to
Nine Inch Nails, from
Jesus And Mary Chain.
The resulting melange is both catchy and original, continuously changing while
maintaining its melodic identity.
Debutante opens with a syncopated guitar riff and an
industrial funk-rock rhythm. Then the guitar roars a
Nirvana-like melody while a
gentle, languid falsetto duets with a catchy piano pattern.
Suddenly, the singer mutates in a psychotic Mr Hyde from a gallery of
Nine Inch Nail's characters and the song explodes.
The boogie-paced fuzz guitar workout of Psycho Clogs well illustrates
the technical skills that make this possible. Besides a terrific rhythm
section, Dragonetti proves himself an extraordinary guitarist, equipped
with an impressive array of tricks, one who has listened to
ZZ Top's La Grange as well as to Pink Floyd's Astronomy Domine.
The layered guitar effects are the ultimate secret of this album's successes.
At the same time, the singing alternates between distorted and ethereal vocals,
producing a disorienting effect: is this gentle pop or energetic hard-rock?
There is more than ambiguity to Jack Drag's program.
These songs are built on irregularities, on fragments, on incomplete sub-songs.
They change all the time.
Dragonetti is a lot less predictable than Beck, even if occasionally
(I Feel Really O.K.) the praxis sounds very similar.
Things get a little easier with the infectious grooves and refrains of
Seem So Tired
(soft choral harmonies of folk-rock with even a shade of the Byrds'
Eight Miles High)
and Dope Box, and with the Merseybeat novelties
Sinner's Delight (that would be considered a masterpiece on any Beatles
album) and Tall Buildings (a masterful exercise in choruses, bridges
and orchestral counterpoint), not to mention the
mellow, strings-laden Where Are We.
The real delicacy comes at the end, Kung Fu Dub,
in the form of a dubby, trippy instrumental, supercharged by loud drumming
and galactic guitar effects. Dragonetti goes to heaven.
Following on the heels of the
EP Junior Communist Club (Sugar Free, 1999),
the fourth Jack Drag album,
Soft Songs LP: Aviating (Sugar Free, 2000), is a completely different
beast: it is, again, a solo album, like Jack Drag's debut, and it returns to
a humnbler format. And it lasts only 30 minutes.
The acoustic Aviating picks up where Where Are We left off.
Crazy harks back to Jack Drag's psychedelic beginnings.
The Only, Only One Parts 1 & 2 and the instrumental
An Evening at the Boston Music Awards have a bit of
Dope Box' oddball attitude, and the rocking At the Symphony
finally wakes you up.
Frankly, this set sounds like a bunch of leftovers.
The Sun Inside (Shifty Disco, 2002) is a monotonous collection of
psychedelic-pop numbers set to a mechanical beat.
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