Reviewed by Mark Plummer
More than five years have passed since 2008s debut Underdog Alma Mater, with the recipe not so much changing as evolving from record to record. Straight away, J.A.C.K. brings a more mature pop-punk taste, showcasing the sound that took them onto the TV screens, as well as bringing back more rationality. This means that J.A.C.K. sits somewhere between mainstream pop-punk and that which belongs with the likes of the Warped Tour.

Nice To Meet You may come across as partly cliched with its pre-chorus “ooo ooo”’s around the statement of “America it’s nice to meet you”, but the warming feel of Summer that accompanies it, compensates and gives this a very likable edge. The more technical guitar work, brimming with a Tom Morello-esque whammy and feedback feel, attacks the entry into the final chorus, adding a flavor that escalates in other places on J.A.C.K.. With intrigue and charm sitting in the Daft Punk like background vocals, resting just under the main vocal melody, it adds a definite curiosity, inviting a dive into the deeper fathoms of the track.

With less emphasis on the keyboard heavy tone of Underdog…, this is a band who are moving on with a steady and subtle approach, yet still paying homage to their roots with tracks like Nikki. Whilst generally keeping it on the straight and narrow, FTSK do digress and dabble in a more mainstream effort; the likes of La La Lainey more than complimenting this. Maybe in an album that aims for this sound, it would come across as tiresome, but here it acts as a tributary from the main flow, offering up something different. Like on Nice To Meet You, that essence is back in abundance and with careful attention to detail. The distinct bass guitar is seemingly replaced with a fuzzier, more Hip-Hop/RnB low end approach, whilst the vocoded vocals hark to the classic sound in One More Time (Daft Punk).

Coming towards the tail end of the album and it is still scintillating in the approach to variety. FTSK won’t strike listeners as a country band in their appearance and mainstay, yet their willingness to experiment is what drives this album forward. My Friends Save Me will ease the listener in as a pretty standard ballad, complete with cleanliness and a piano sitting somewhere in the background, but come the chorus and there’s a definite Nashville quality that – together with a shout out to the Beach Boys – helps to complete a record of ever changing direction.

It’s hard to get bored with J.A.C.K. where Underdog… let listeners down with its habit to feel repetitive and not flow from start to finish (much like its predecessor). Instead, here is a release that whilst sticking to what works for FTSK, will on occasion go and have its own adventure; retaining much more enjambment and not muddying itself in the confusion of direction. Of the millions of record labels out there, a couple stick out in the crowd for their habit of keeping the right bands on their roster who will shine through. Fearless are one of those labels, and here is another testament to what makes an independent label truly wonderful; Forever The Sickest Kids.

4½ out of 5


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