May 21, 2005

Love As Laughter "Laughter's Fifth"

Love As Laughter is the long-running vision of Sam Jayne. And what a long, strange trip it's been, too; from lo-fi weirdness to lo-fi pop sweetness to a little bit of garage-rock to a whole lot of garage rock, you can't accuse Jayne of standing still. When they signed to Sub Pop, the underground was rumbling, threatening to release a new trend upon the world. Along with records by Vue and The Go, it seemed as if Love As Laughter's Destination: 2000 was a step in the right direction for world domination. The band's last record, Sea To Shining Sea, didn't quite conquer the world, but showed a great deal of promise; in it, the band had finely polished its rock machine, and it sounded real nice, too--and a nice respite in a music world that was about to take off in that 'new rock' direction.
When the trend turned around, Love as Laughter was nowhere to be found. In the time since then, a lot has changed. "Rock" has come and gone, label mates The Go and Vue abandoned the good Sub Pop ship, releasing records that nobody bought, and the "new rock" fad died quicker than grunge.

Laughter's Fifth is easily the most polished Love As Laughter record to date. While it might be a bit of a stretch to say that the record sounds "commercial," it's really not a stretch to say that the band's spent some time working on perfecting their sound, cleaning up their act in the studio. If past records have been perfect in their imperfection, everything on Laughter's Fifth seems intentional, and even the one or two flubbed moments seem essential to the overall sonic picture. It's as if they've taken the warts-and-all approach of Exile on Main Street as a commandment.

You won't really find the hard, driving moments of past hits like "I'm A Bee" and "Temptation Island" on Laughter's Fifth. Okay, there's the fun The OC-approved "Dirty Lives," but even then it's only a mid-tempo rocker, and "I'm A Ghost" is pretty rockin', too, but that's about it.. Still, there's a case to be made for Sam Jayne as blues-rocker, and that's simple: it ain't bad! Though it's kind of unusual hearing mellower sounds on a Love as Laughter record, it doesn't really change the dynamic of the band, and Jayne actually sounds better with the stripped down accompaniment. Songs like "Idol Worship! Idol Worship!" and "Corona Extra" highlight Jayne's songwriting skills, and the excellent "Survivors" sounds not only like a long-lost Exile on Main Street outtake, it's also one of Jayne's most moving compositions.

While it might seem odd to consider him a bluesman, Laughter's Fifth indicates that Jayne's quite capable of making an excellent blues/rock racket. You know, kinda like the Stones. Ultimately, this is a surprisingly great record. Who knew that a band chucking its formula for something so different could be so rewarding?

--Joseph Kyle

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