If a book shouldn’t be judged by its cover, then no matter how great the temptation, it would be unfair to skewer ambient Manchester group Working for a Nuclear Free City for the unfortunate title of Jojo Burger Tempest or its random-irreverence-for-random-irreverence’s-sake, toy-baby-in-pilot-gear cover art. It is, however, entirely acceptable to fault the talented, semi-shoegaze band for reveling in self-indulgence like oblivious pigs in mud. No matter how beautifully chasmal or effectively dreamy this 18-track double album gets, it’s still the sonic equivalent of a band rolling happily around in their own filth. With the title track itself filling up the whole second disc, Jojo Burger Tempest might be one of the worst cases of musical masturbation in recent memory.
The shame in all of this is that, beneath the annoying bluster, Working for a Nuclear Free City is a very capable dream-pop band, essentially England’s answer to France’s shoegaze master Anthony Gonzales. But whereas Gonzales has taken measured steps to master and polish M83’s ability to blend abstraction with pop sensibility, Working for a Nuclear Free City is more than happy to simply throw bad ideas on top of good ones, hit the pulse button, and let the mess land where it may. What results is abridged moments of genius punctuated by mediocrity, with all the direction and discipline (or lack thereof) of a music school graduate’s thesis recording project.
Behind every misstep (the prog-rockish “Do a Stunt,” the melody-less drone “Burning Drums,” the blatant M83 clone “Brown Owl”), there’s usually a gem waiting (the pensive, minimalist “A Black Square with Four Yellow Stars,” the slowly building “Float Bridges,” and the bass-bumping “Black Rivers” and “Alphaville”). And so, Jojo Burger Tempest is neither entirely good nor bad, but rather a schizophrenic monstrosity, reaching peaks with offerings like “Autoblue” only to hit bottom with, appropriately, something like “Low.” Caught somewhere between dream-pop banality one moment and pleasant, expertly crafted distraction the next, this overstuffed album is perhaps not nearly as poor as its title choice would suggest, but it’s still in need of some generous paring.