If I made a list of my favorite albums, you’d look at it and know that there’s something about Pennsylvania punk that keeps this west coasters’ heart beating. I’m a sucker for bands that like Hot Water Music and Fugazi as much as they love Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. Bands that write their lyrics with such confessional esotericism, a slice of life becomes life itself. I first heard Ma Jolie from their last full-length, Polars, which I loved. It had melodic songwriting that was pushed through the punk rock grinder, and out the other side came something that could’ve been prefixed with post, but either way was creative and energetic.
Jetpack Mailman is Ma Jolie’s latest EP and here they sound heavier and more chaotic. They’re a three piece now and it shows through the albums streamlined and focused music. “Tired Life” is less than two minutes long and a heavy hitter with gang vocals and dynamism. There’s a hint of emo as the song breaks away from the louder, more hardcore opening to the softer riffs in the latter half. “Ego Tourism” continues the theme of heaviness by featuring the bass prominently in its opening. Post-hardcore has always benefited by letting the bass become a main player rather than just background tones and now that Ma Jolie only have three instruments to their name it’s all the easier to facilitate a give and take– allowing their sound to become tighter but also more unique.
“Pittsburgh” opens with one of those winding riffs that to most of us could’ve felt both alien and familiar at some point in time. It’s not extreme or out of the boundaries of rock music, but it is clearly the results of growth and interpretation through the lens of punk rock. The pounding chords that permeate the rest of the song are the guitar serving as an emotional instrument– punctuating passion with staccato strums. It will seem obvious to a lot of listeners, but so much of Jetpack Mailman is a reminder of how much has been added to the musical vocabulary by virtue of punk rock, and as a mile marker it serves a purpose purely curative. But, as a listener, I would prefer it added something to the vocabulary.
Ma Jolie are the product of lots and lots of musical forward momentum, but on Jetpack Mailman there’s never anything that shows they’re continuing the journey onward. That’s not to say they can’t write a great song, because they can. These are incredibly talented musicians with a strong ear for just about everything, and yet, I can’t help but hear Jetpack Mailman as a perfunctory piece. Change is the result of extremes– no matter really aggressive or really soft, really challenging or really simple. Jetpack Mailman is good, but not really good.