by Erin Broadley
The variable nature of popular music keeps the definition of a good vocalist flexible. Criteria used to separate good singers from bad changes according to flux in trend – one minute lauding Cobain’s throaty croak as ideal, the next minute insisting that everyone croon like Bowie, British invasion style. However, a good set of pipes is a good set of pipes, regardless of the “It” thing. Ours frontman Jimmy Gnecco may be one of the most underrated vocalists on the rock scene today. His voice moves from earthy rumble to piercing shriek to a falsetto so flawless it could turn the Sirens green with envy, oftentimes all in the same verse. When Gnecco visits Los Angeles to perform solo at small, sweaty clubs, it feels like the city’s best kept secret, albeit a secret begging to be shared.
New Jersey based Ours first surfaced in 1996, though it wasn’t until 2001 that mainstream audiences took notice with the band’s debut Distorted Lullabies – an ethereal and brooding soundscape that rocks like a sultry, swaggering pirate and will steal your heart if you’re not careful. It’s lush alt-rock that waltzes into your eardrums and paints a film noir visual before your eyes.
Though widely acclaimed, many critics cited Distorted Lullabies’ darker undertones as indicative of an angsty songwriter that bordered on willfully depressed. While the album undeniably tugs on the ol’ heart strings and brings out a bit of the red wine loving introvert in us all, it’s important not to confuse the melancholic aspects in Ours’ music with misery. The music channels sadness, but only to uplift. It’s not sad in a dark sense; it’s sad like a sunset and somewhat sublime, like the pain and pleasure of getting a new tattoo.
Ours’ 2002 sophomore release, Precious, took a different route and is characterized by immediate, rock and roll urgency more than melancholic introversion. Tonally, where Distorted Lullabies builds, Precious kicks. The album pulls together nicely as a whole but, at times, the songwriting seems disjointed and several tracks sound like they fail to truly grab the band. Perhaps it was the pressures of completing the follow-up in two months as opposed to three years with the first, perhaps is was the influence of producer Ethan Johns who is known more for his low-fi garage rock sound, or perhaps is was the lack of support from a collapsing Dreamworks Records.
Whichever the case, Ours has proved itself a band that prefers to keep changing the musical script and rightfully so, because no one likes to hear the same songs re-written. Precious was an interesting chapter in the Ours catalog and only furthers the ant- icipation as to what next.
We’ll be waiting.