Jars of Clay - Inland 90 x 90Jars consolidate the sound of Good Monsters and Eleventh Hour on another thoughtful and subdued release full of well-honed songs.

Label: Gray Matters
Time: 12 Tracks / 51 minutes

The band's 20th album is inspired by the idea of a sailor burning his boat and travelling far enough inland to meet people who do not know what an oar is. So it is a lyrically uncomfortable collection that deals honestly with regret, faith, conflict, forgiveness and hope. As a lyric in the title track says,
    "There are no streets to walk on, no maps you can rely on /
    Faith and guts to guide you, wander til you find you."

That makes it sound as though they are charting undiscovered musical pathways, but to my ears they are actually consolidating their sound, bringing it back to the feel of Good Monsters or the Eleventh Hour, although this has a better and more consistent batch of well-worked songs that – like on their first – take time to grow on you.

Musically, producer Tucker Martine (Decemberists, Abi Washburn) has brought out plenty of colour, focusing on Dan Haseltine's distinctive vocals, harmony layers and adding nuanced touches. So songs take off because of a wordless riff (“Inland”), satisfying choruses (“Loneliness and Alcohol”) or ambient sounds (“Pennsylvania”). Others just seem to have everything, like "Skin and Bones", "Left Undone" or “After the Fight,” with its big chorus, surf guitar sound, inspired guitar ticks and propulsive rhythm (not to mention a sound that reminds me of classic Future of Forestry in places).

On the promo tour for The Shelter, Jars of Clay gave me a renewed confidence in the thoughtfulness and spiritual depth that they put into their work. They shy away neither from life's difficulties nor their biblical roots. This integrity makes for grounded work. Add their sheer musical quality and smooth, harmony-rich vocals and the package is pretty complete.

The only weak spot for me is the repetitious, pre-packaged melody for the verses of “Human race” although its lyrical focus is nicely observed.

Inland doesn’t quite match the spacious beauty of their début or the synth-rich intricate layers of The Long Fall Back to Earth, both of which are 5-Tock works, but it is a melody-fuelled work, rich in lyrical imagery, that succeeds both as an introduction to the band and as a satisfying addition to their canon for long-time fans.


Derek Walker

{module Possibly Related Articles - Also search our Legacy Site}