The five Croatians comprising Jonathan toe the line between what can be accessible radio rock and what can be heavy and experimental, but they have yet to make up their minds on their debut LP Bliss. The instrumentation is polished and consistent, and the songs are catchy enough, giving the impression of a group posed to break out if it wasn’t for the questionable vocals.
Zoran Badurina is the tour guide through Bliss but from the very beginning, listeners wonder if they are in stable hands. He’s dead set on pseudo Justin Vernon, spoken-word passages, that are more haunting than affectionate, more off-putting than inviting. Still, if you ignore these moments (it’s easier said than done) and tune out of the chorus to “Umbrellas in the sun” his performance is semi-enjoyable. He pulls off a convincing Alex Kapranos (Franz Ferdinand) impression, but can rarely stretch beyond this singular dimension.
There’s little question whether Badurina can sing—he absolutely can, but his reach far exceeds his grasp and this gets him in trouble. For every well-placed melody on “Communicate!” or “Hands,” there’s a weird, drawn out, throaty scratch (see, or don’t see: the end of “Pictures”).
Regardless of the liability Badurina poses, the twelve songs on Bliss are more than just passable. Guitarist Tomislav Radinovic, composes tight, effect-laden melodies that are never repetitive. Unlike genre mainstays such as The Strokes, Vampire Weekend, Two Door Cinema Club and Okay-Go, the guitar work is more than just a repetitive riff.
The guitar work isn't quite on the level of the Artic Monkeys or Franz Ferdinand, but it is a clear step above most contemporaries in terms of inventiveness. Branko Kovačić (drums and percussion) and Nikica Jurjevic (bass) help give most songs a driving urgency with “Communicate!” being the album’s clear stand out.
The latter half of the record has a dark, eerie feel that Badurina attempts to build upon with cold catharsis. Instrumentation like that on “XYZ,” “The School” and “Paperman” sets the album apart from many in the genre, and the overall effect would be considerably better if the vocals could back it up. Bliss is fun and interesting, but my money’s on these five guys putting it all together on their next album.
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