George Graham reviews Stolen Jars' "A Reminder"
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The Graham Album Review #2007

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Stolen Jars: A Reminder
by George Graham

(Independent release as broadcast on WVIA-FM 12/4/2019)

The term “indie band” meaning a group that is not signed to what it left of the major record labels, and that makes and releases their own music, encompasses a pretty wide range, though the stereotype is that of a band may not quite be ready for prime time, or one that dwells in some kind of musical niche that is off the beaten path. Quite a bit of interesting music has come from indie bands, though a lot more of it is pretty rough around the edges, or just plain bad.

This week, we have a new recording from an indie band whose musical quirkiness is its major asset, incorporating an almost art-rock sensibility to their music, done in a creative and engaging way. The group is Stolen Jars, and their new release, their third, is called A Reminder.

Stolen Jars’ leader is Cody Fitzgerald, who started the endeavor making music in his bedroom in Montclair, New Jersey. He would often use loops of guitar parts running together to create a kind of polyrhythmic sound, in some ways reminiscent of the minimalist music of Philip Glass. Over the past several years, the group had grown into a regular ensemble, based in Brooklyn with a touring schedule. The band’s last full album, called Kept, was released is 2015 and we featured it on this album review series at the time. Since then Fitzgerald has been busy creating full-length movie scores, for the films The Rewrite, Hard Sell and a forthcoming Disney movie.

But after what was described as a “visual EP,” Fitzgerald returned his attention to Stolen Jars for this new release. On it, he again plays many of the instruments himself, but is joined by his main collaborator, vocalist Sarah Coffey, who shares many of the lead vocals with Fitzgerald. There are other cast members who appear, including Matt Marsico on drums, who is one of the members of the live touring band, plus a cellist and a couple of horn players.

A Reminder is a collection of 14 short pieces, most of them with the band’s trademark idiosyncratic rhythms and occasionally unconventional percussion sounds, while the vocals can weave in and out of the rhythmic skein. The songs are lyrically distinctive to go with the musical setting.

Opening is the title track A Reminder which typifies the album’s intriguing mix, a quirky love song with the group’s swirling music. <<>>

Winona is described as being about “the mutation in a friendship that continued over distance.” Sarah Coffey occasionally takes the lead vocal. <<>>

Ms. Coffey also takes singing duties for most of the track Ghost Towns, one of more distinctive on this already unconventional album. I think it is also one of the more interesting. <<>>

Younger Nights is another creative piece that keeps the listener a little off-guard, both musically and lyrically. <<>>

A relationship that seems to be coming apart forms the basis of the song Anna (Worried Days). The track has an even more elaborate arrangement than most of the others on this arty album. <<>>

The track Oh West features an additional vocalist, Magdalena Bermudez, while Ms. Coffey takes the lead putting in a very nice performance, though the lyrics are rather cryptic. <<>>

The separation of lovers has been a common theme among songwriters. Stolen Jars takes up the subject in another of its more elaborate sonic mosaics, on the song Interstate.

The album closes with All I Wanted which enlists the services of the additional players on horns and cello, providing more interesting sonic textures.

A Reminder, the new third album by the Brooklyn based group Stolen Jars, is another intriguing record that combines echoes of the minimalists like Phillip Glass with the alternative rock world. Cody Fitzgerald plays most of the instruments on this album, with Sarah Coffey providing a strong vocal presence, though there is a touring band with added players. The album is definitely not for everyone. You’ll have a hard time trying to dance to it, except perhaps in the context of African or Eastern European polyrhythmic styles, and the lyrics tend to be somewhat cerebral. But I think the music is very creative and Fitzgerald deserves kudos for developing a highly distinctive sound, that rewards the effort to listen to it, and eventually becomes quite satisfying, when you want something off the beaten path. And for those who go for arty layered music, it’s makes for instantly rewarding listening. My one quibble is that the polyrhtyhmic approach is used on almost every track. One or two pieces with a more conventional, or at least a different, more legato rhythmic structure would have given the album a wider range.

Our grade for sound quality is about an A-Minus. It’s reasonably well recorded, and for the most part, the studio effects are used judiciously. But the recording could have been a little cleaner in places, and better dynamic range with a punchier sound would enhance the sonic experience.

Stolen Jars has earned their stripes as one the more interesting indie bands, in the best sense.

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