Head In The Sand
Some Kind Of Family
Update: And this is how they say goodbye. Les Jupes have announced their break-up today. You can read a letter from frontman Michael Petkau Falk, which is posted after a review of their final album, which comes out today.
Winnipeg, Canada-based, indie-rock/electro-pop quartet Les Jupes is poised to release its sophomore album, Some Kind Of Family, on April 14th on Head In The Sand. The band members (singer-songwriter Michael P Falk, bassist David Schellenberg who has since been replaced by Darcy Penner, keyboardist Adam Fuhr, drummer Jordon Ottenson, and unofficial member and guest singer Hailey Primrose) dropped debut album Modern Myths in 2011 and followed it up with 2013’s Negative Space EP. Their latest was recorded in Montreal with Marcus Paquin (the National) producing, mixed by Tony Hoffer (Beck, Phoenix, M83), and features a guest appearance by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. The overarching theme of Some Kind Of Family is of the universality of familial ties and dynamics, but also how it relates specifically to the members of Les Jupes as a band.
The 12 album tracks of Some Kind Of Family take the listener back to the past and take a ruminating view of the present and future; a reminiscing over what has come before and a questioning of the here and now and what is to come. The lyrics-centric intro “When They Dig Us Up” is a straight-forward rocker that starts with guitar strikes, emphatically hit drums, and Michael’s matter-of-fact sing-talking vocals. Hailey’s vocals provide a nice contrast on the bridges between the verses and the chorus parts. The chorus gears up with guitar riffs, an urgent bass line, faster drum kinetics and pace, and Michael astutely proclaiming “Every time we hold too tight / what we want just slips away.” About two-thirds of the way in, manically banged antique piano notes are added to the mix. The dashing excitement wanes for a few seconds near the end of the song when Michael and Hailey chime in with sweet harmonizing vocal tiers amid a clacking beat, but then picks back up again for the rest of the tune.
Next number “Something’s Happening” calms it down with spacey and sustained organ keyboard notes and Michael front ‘n’ center, wondering “Am I better off on my own?”, on the verses. Michael’s repetitive “Oh-oh-oh” vocal refrain on the chorus comes off as lazy for someone who is considered to be a consummate wordsmith. Otherwise the chorus segments engage with a staticky, measured, hard-cracked beat, scaling electro-notes, percussion scintillation, and Hailey’s added vocals. “What Am I Doing Here?” maintains the appearance of placidity to the point of being too subtle. Low-key piano notes and a reverberating beat form a bed for Michael’s hushed vocals and subdued emotional tone as he sings that he has to “Go it alone”. Harsher pitched dissonant noises arrives and try to liven it up, but they end up overtaking Michael and Hailey’s repeated refrain of the song title.
Lead-off single “Everything Will Change” is a more compelling track with its brisk, thumping beat, electric guitar strokes, thumbed bass line, and Michael’s soft, but pressing vocals as he sings “Sometimes we just do things for love / Whatever will become of us?” The driving chorus lifts the song up with its pronounced and sped-up drum beat, insistent keyboard notes, and buzzing electronics. The recurrent use of the simplistic phrase “I know” on the chorus, however, is a bit of a letdown. “The Brothers” showcases Michael’s lighter register and more vulnerable vocal tone as he sings “I don’t know if I have the guts to say: No more goodbyes” amid fluidly picked guitars and wordless vocal accompaniment from Hailey.
The songs on Some Kind Of Family become sonically stronger, more lyrically profound, and more intriguing vocally as the album progresses. “One Is Enough” rattles the cage (or would that be crib?) at its start with fuzzed-up guitar distortion and a slammin’ drum beat. Michael darkly, but smoothly broods on a rich Cousteau-like chorus filled with sweeps of guitar and the despairing lyrical pairing of “Love’s in the air” and “I just don’t care.” The Cousteau-like contemplation continues on the stately “You’re Burning Up” with its symphonic strings, deep piano notes and vocals, and burnished cymbal shimmer. Les Jupes takes on the school system microcosm as Michael cries out “They’ve hijacked the last few things we’ve kept inside” against a marching drum beat, percolating percussion, and distorted guitar lines. Limpidly picked acoustic guitar lines spin a pleasant web on “I Want Answers” as lightly thumped drums and keyboard notes play out against an occasional rumbling noise. Hailey gently and airily shadows Michael’s lower vocal tone.
“On Miracles” begins softly with piano notes, vocals, and slow drums, then blooms with buzzy distortion, marked piano notes, and bashed cymbals and drum beat before retreating to a more insular tone. Bright and upbeat keyboard and piano notes, shaking percussion, and an emphatic drum beat accompany the alternating and twining vocals of Michael and Hailey on the rousing and captivating “Bro Sis”. The unabashedly celebratory sonics however, mask the fact that the lyrics are about the questionable relationship between a brother and sister (“There was danger in love / We knew where we came from”). Ruminating album-ender “Targa Verb” quiets it down with spare guitar notes and atmospheric keyboards. Michael emotes with drawn-out wordless vocal cries and the introspective lyrics “I want to bring you closer”. Some Kind Of Family definitely has that effect.
:Rayannah Kroeker sang on “Everything Will Change”, “Something’s Happening”, “What Am I Doing Here?”, and “You’re Burning Up”.
I’m very sad to announce that Les Jupes are done.
We’ve been a pretty dysfunctional band. We’ve been 3 completely different lineups in 4 years. We’ve battled entitlement, laziness, egos, self-righteousness and willful ignorance. There are some stories that would make you just shake your head, others that would break your heart. We would get 4 people onto the same page for a couple of months before someone else would leave and the whole thing would have to be re-jigged again. It became exhausting. Even ridiculous. A parody of what this was supposed to become. And definitely a pretty impossible way to build momentum or capitalize on what few opportunities we did have come our way.
Many friends and industry people have told me I should just hire a backing band and tour the songs. But it just doesn’t feel right. That’s not what this was ever supposed to be about, and I’m not interested in touring a show that doesn’t feel interesting. This was supposed to be four people on a mission, doing something special together. And after too many failed attempts at that, perhaps its just time to lay it to bed.
A whole lot of care and thought and passion and time and money went into this record. It was supposed to be the album that got us through the glass ceiling we kept hitting. But it unfortunately turned out to be the record that sadly fulfilled its own name.
Not sure we were ever a great band, but I think we had gotten pretty good – to a place where I felt confident we finally had the balance of skills and tools to make a go of it and maybe even become great. I think the best compliment we ever got was: “Wow, you guys are like a real band.” I never wanted to be the coolest band. Never wanted to be a part of a fad. I just want to make art that connects with something inside those making it and anyone who might listen to it. To write songs that might have an outside shot at still meaning something to someone a few years down the line.
I’m not sure what I’m going to do next. I’ve been mulling on all kinds of things – some of which are radical life changes, some of which are gentle left turns. Some days I want nothing to do with music, others I can’t imagine myself without it. It’s hard not to be terribly angry at a couple people. My increasing self-isolation and introversion combined with exhaustion from the past few years makes this a difficult process. I’ve never grieved a dream before. So I’m gonna just take the time I need to figure it out. In the meantime, I’ve got my studio and will continue writing songs and working with other artists.
I’d like to thank three people who have gone above and beyond to support this band. Frank Ehrmann has championed us in Germany and deserves so much more from this record that he was so excited about. Darcy Penner came in swinging as the most trustworthy, hard-working bandmate I ever had. And my wife, Robin. Even though I often put the band before her, she has been so unbelievably supportive. She put up with a lot of late night fretting sessions, even incurred debt on behalf the band, and is a treasure of a human being.
I really hope you enjoy this album. I was so hopeful for these songs.
Michael Petkau Falk