Keeping fans waiting is one way to make them more eager, right? Following a cheeky 6-year gap, Philadelphia Grand Jury are back with their second album, Summer Of Doom. I can indeed confirm that yes, absence does make the heart grow fonder. My 16-year-old heart broke when the band (known as Philly Jays amongst fans) announced their split in 2011, and it leapt for joy when I saw they were back with not one but TWELVE new tracks.

The band’s debut album Hope is For Hopers received a lot of triple j love- indeed, it was via a free download of ‘I’m Going To Kill You’ as part of a triple j podcast that I got my first taste of the Philly Jays. ‘Going To The Casino’ gained even further reach through being synced on Underbelly- A Tale of Two Cities. By the end of 2011, however, the band had split, with singer Simon Berckelman or “Berkfinger” off to Berlin to build a studio. 2013 saw rumours of a reunion surface after a few intimate surprise shows, followed by a of shows for diehard fans in 2014. Finally, this year saw the trio (Simon along with Joel “MC Bad Genius” Beeson Dan on keys, guitar and bass “Dan W. Sweat” Williams on drums) return to Berlin for 10 days of recording. Summer Of Doom is the result.

A scanning of the track titles was promising; with pearlers such as ‘Cake & Eat It Too’ and ‘Sugar In My Diet’, equal parts amusing and relevant to my everyday existence. Most of the tracks on this album were recorded live within 30 minutes of being written, with no ‘editing’ or ‘computer trickery’. The idea of the unedited, off the cuff recording is good in theory, however I can’t help but feel some of these tracks haven’t reached their full potential.

Punchy and messy, lead single ‘Crashing & Burning Pt II’ is certainly the most reminiscent of Philly Jays of old. It would have been at home amongst their old hits ‘The Good News’ and ‘Save Our Town’ on my teenage iPod playlists. There are certainly other good moments on the album- ‘Chris Is In A Jam’ and ‘Get Happy Again’ are enjoyable enough. Largely, though, the tracks lack the immediacy, lyrical wit and tongue in cheek of their past releases.

Perhaps this is due to the rawness of the recordings, given that ‘if (singer) Berkfinger couldn’t sing it perfectly in tune, [the tracks] stayed out of tune.’ Once again, I can see the appeal of the uncensored, spontaneous recording of tracks- it can be a useful way to circumvent the sterile nature of studio recordings and inject some of the energy of the live show into an album. However, the bands’ previous recordings weren’t lacking any vitality, rather were tight and well produced.

It seems that the Philly Jays are a band best enjoyed live, and perhaps the tracks will translate better on stage. It remains to be seen if this album will receive the critical acclaim of its predecessor.

By Claire Barley

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