Photo of John Jagos by Tonje Thilesen, courtesy of Force Field PR.
For Brooklyn-based John Jagos, known to the world-at-large as Brothertiger, a foray into dance music was most likely not on the bingo card of anyone in his devoted congregation. The good news is that the music on his eponymous new long-player is a revelatory and satisfying experience. The bad news? There really isn’t any, except for the fact that I now wish this was a double album with twice the tracks.
Thus far, Brothertiger’s reputation has been built on his penchant for peppering his moody and synth-drenched soundscapes with lyrics exploring themes of distance, introversion, and an almost existentialist exploration of love. This time around the lyrical themes remain, but they’re now dressed up in Z Cavariccis, pastel Lacoste shirts, and a pair of Reeboks to do some right and proper Saturday-night damage on the dance floor.
Collecting a few of his recent singles and several unreleased tracks, the album refocuses Jagos’ energies through a beat-driven Scritti Polliti looking glass. It starts right out of the gate with album-opener “Tangerine,” a song that exudes hope while Jagos’ moon-kissed voice glides across an array of ambient synths and syncopated bass drum patterns. Songs like “Be True” and “Dancer on the Water” explore the timeless joys of youthful romance while “Summer Wave ’98” gives Jagos a chance to mix in some hip-hop grooves and even drop some old-school freestyling, which was a delightful surprise. Who knew such a smooth DJ lurked beneath Brothertiger’s surface?
There’s no better example of Jagos’ sharp turn into fat pop hooks than “New Life,” a Frankenstein flight of fancy that is two-parts new jack scientists Teddy Riley and Bernard Bellecarries, and one-part Green Gartside melodic bliss. “Torn Open” is perhaps my favorite song on the album, evoking shades of Howard Jones with its percussive bass line and syncopated piano. The track also features Covet frontwoman Yvette Young, who carries the melody so far into the stratosphere that you’ll get a contact high just by listening to it.
With album closer “Wallow,” Jagos leads us back into more familiar Brothertiger territory with the kind of ethereal hymn to self-reflection we’ve come to expect. A funny thing happens before the song wraps up, though. In the last few bars heading into the eventual fade-out, we hear some Peter Gabriel-esque So-era percussion bubble and percolate to the surface. It wraps up the whole journey perfectly.
When Jagos released his Tears For Fears homage to that band’s Songs from the Big Chair, the devotion he has for that era in pop music was worn like a badge of honor. With this latest album, Jagos shows us what happens when our love for whatever art captivates us is absorbed by our hearts and transfigured into stars, shimmering statements to our individuality and worth. Like all good music, it gives us a place to belong. | Jim Ousley