Words On Waves
Independent release, 2009
REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/09/2011
One of the pleasures of the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival is that you never know what sort of unexpected treat you’re going to come across. It might a garlic-infused corn dog, or garlic ice cream, or perhaps a tasty band you’ve never heard of playing live in front of an appreciative, sun-splashed crowd. While wandering the festival a few weeks back, my family and I sat down and caught half a set by talented Los Angeles quartet Just Off Turner.
I was immediately impressed by the musicality of their all-original set—they know what they’re doing and are able to combine solid pop songwriting with a distinctive mélange of soul and jazz influences. At times they capture the hyperkinetic energy of a Dave Matthews Band jam inside a soulful tune displaying the pop smarts of a Maroon 5. At other times there’s an undercurrent of rather Steely Dan-ish sophisticated jazz-pop that’s a refreshing twist on their sound.
The quartet manages this variety of tones and feels courtesy of lead vocalist Bryan Mounce doubling as lead guitarist, and keyboardist Phil Metzler doubling as harmony vocalist (bassist Stephen Andrews and drummer Eric Gustafson are equally adept at melding their talents to whatever the song calls for). The fact that guitar and keys receive roughly equal focus adds texture and variety to these tunes, which might feature the guitar out front one song, the keys the next, and the vocals a third.
As for those vocals, Mounce shows a definite Adam Levine influence in his swerving, soulful approach and inflections—a bit of a crooner, but one who can also belt it out on an upbeat number like opener “Waiting On The Strength,” or go all breathy Dave Matthews/John Mayer on a more laidback, sensual cut like “Faces.” In Gilroy, JOT’s set included both “Faces” and the expansive ballad “Room With a View.” Of the tunes here that I didn’t hear them play live, a favorite is “Lines On Love,” which skitters along on a propulsive beat, dropping sharp lines such as “to be loved is to be free” left and right on the way to its wide-open, driving chorus.
Just Off Turner also add dimension to their music with clever arrangement bits like having the second and third verses of “Better When” fall back to just drums and the complex bass line before reinstating keys and guitar on the way into the punchy chorus. Here and elsewhere, JOT manage to make their four instruments sound like considerably more.
Another appealing aspect of Just Off Turner is that, despite the often-supple nature of the melodies, they don’t sand all the edges off their music. For example, “Drunken Dances” is smooth and steady at first, but they don’t hesitate to veer off toward the end into a long, entertaining guitar-drum jam. They serve the song, but they aren’t a paint-by-numbers pop band; they throw in some flair and aren’t afraid to explore and solo.
Words On Waves showcases Just Off Turner as a band to watch, a quartet that offers both excellent musical chops and sophisticated pop craftsmanship—a winning combo in any context.