Side projects can be a way for a member of a major band to kick out their urges to experiment with another genre or style of music without worrying about the ramifications of pissing off their core fan base. It’s been happening since rock came to prominence in the late ‘50s. Neil Young had multiple bands outside of his own solo career while as recently as two weeks ago we featured Ultraísta, which combined the talents of several big named musicians who combined forces to make a killer album.
Thus, when Kings of Leon’s bassist Jared Followill and Mona singer and guitarist Nick Brown joined forces to form Smoke & Jackal, no one should be surprised at the formation of yet another supergroup. The project had been in the works for a bit, with Brown posting a photo in June on both his Tumblr page and Instagram of the two, which hinted at a collaboration between the two. Once details were confirmed, the duo released first single “No Tell” via their Soundcloud page in August, which gave a hint to what the band’s direction would be. If you guessed that it would be a mystical version of Southern influenced rock meets indie dream pop, and then you need to tell us the numbers for the Mega Millions.
Cleverly titled EP1 (who knows if there will be more after all,), the album blends the aforementioned genres into something you’d never expect to hear from Kings lf Leon. The harmonies of “Fall Around” would sound at home on a Beach House album while the synths on “No Tell” sound eerily like the B-sides from U2’s Unforgettable Fire-era, albeit without Bono’s voice and different harmonies and “Save Face,” the best track on the EP, is haunting and darker (due to the heavy drums, vocal harmonies and synth) than anything else on the album, yet doesn’t sound remotely like anything like something they’d done before.
EP1 moves briskly, clocking in at a shade less than 22 minutes, but it feels like an enchanted voyage in a genre that’s easy to create but difficult to craft. A lot of bands are going the dream-pop route it seems, at least due to its burgeoning popularity, but few understand how to make it unique AND good at the same time. That isn’t to say that these guys to as well, there are moments of bloatedness, but they do their best to have fun while writing some tunes they wouldn’t have been able to with their ‘day job.’
Though far from a perfect EP, Smoke & Jackyl show that when two guys get together to make music on their own terms, it can produce interesting results.