Supergroups are an interesting phenomenon, one which I’ve spoken about many times here at One A Day. Whether it’s taking a singer from one band and transplanting them onto another (hello Audioslave), kicking around some new tunes because you’re a bit bored of your current band (hello Divine Fits) or just teaming up with the best players you know to create some omnipotent monster (er, Them Crooked Vultures, the road to success seems to be at once both assured and also totally precarious. Consider then, the plight of JJAMZ (‘juh-jamz’ for those, like me, who cannot phonetically spell anything); a band with five members, each of whom come from groups of varying levels of awesome. There’s James Valentine from Maroon 5, who you’d never know because you’d have to get around Adam Levine’s ego to find him but is actually a killer guitarist and the man responsible for some of my favourite licks on Songs About Jane. There’s Z Berg, from the ill-fated, Mark Ronson-touted girl group The Like. There’s Alex Greenwald, who is in movies and TV and fronted Phantom Planet for christ’s sake and there’s also a dude called Michael Runion I know nothing about and Jason Boesel, who played drums for Rilo Kiley, a band I know far too much about. All signs point to a complete messhugas, and yet this is one of the most likeable songs I’ve heard all month.
‘Heartbeat’ is synthy and icy in the same way nearly every song with the word ‘Heartbeat’ in it has has been successful since we’ve been writing this blog (read: The Knife, Robyn, other Swedish people). However, it’s also kind of joyous, in a carefree, Los Angeles manner, throwing off sensual late summer vibes perpetuated by the extremely likeable – I’m sorry about that pun – vocals of Z, whose tone matches the throbbing Knightrider bass so well that it’s easy to see why Ronson thought she would go places. The chord progression isn’t exactly revolutionary, but the way it’s phased between the flattened toms and that phased bass seems to make it work. It also gives a lot of contrast a song that coud be everything all at once, particularly considering the pedigree of the players involved. You only hear Valentine chime in right before the chorus explodes, at which point he’s all over the thing like a rash; bending lead notes, strumming backing chords and trying to keep up under a small army of computerised sounds. You hear him lingering into the next verse, too, providing a nice counterpoint between the machines and the people controlling them, and a very early Killers-esque vibe to it all, too. I should point out that I have no idea what Greenwald is playing or doing on this song, so one imagines he’s just kicking back in some khakis and making the magic happen. After all, for all of the pull power here, he’s the guy who wrote ‘California’, everyone.
It was halfway through hearing this song on the CMJ sampler that somehow ended up in my suitcase (yes, they played there and no, I didn’t make it. There were too many shows on and I was too busy watching this) that I realised I’d heard it before. And it was in that certain, gnawing kind of way when you realise that this is a song that has been synced for some kind of massive advertisement. It’s the Yael Naim or Chilly Gonzales feeling. Twenty searches later I found the root of my suspicion, ‘Heartbeat’ was in fact the very track that relaunched Myspace to the world. Mr Timberlake and his investor friends would have had a say in it. And fair enough, because it’s a lovely piece of pop writing. It doesn’t drag, it’s varied enough texturally to keep you bopping in the quiet bits, and if you listen to Z’s impassioned and totally sexy lyrics, it’s pretty dark, too. And then there’s that solo in the middle, which is like a double synth-guitar laser battle from space which builds into split harmonies and is totally unexpected. It’s ballsy, it’s incredible, and it makes me want to take all five of them home and dance around for hours even though I’ve probably heard this sort of thing before – even with the final modulation. Nice work, team.
JJAMZ – ‘Heartbeat’