Personnel: Alex Greenwald (vocals, guitar, keyboards, programming); Michael Runion (vocals, guitar); Z. Berg (vocals); James Valentine (guitar); Jason Boesel (keyboards, drums, percussion).
Audio Mixer: Shawn Everett.
Recording information: Bright Street Recorders, Los Angeles, CA; El Dorado, Los Angeles, CA; Last Resort Studio, Los Angeles, CA; The Lair, Los Angeles, CA; Zeitgeist, Los Angeles, CA.
Photographers: Michael Runion; Eddie O'Keefe; Mason Poole.
JJAMZ may be made up of members of name bands like Rilo Kiley, Maroon 5, Phantom Planet, and the Like, but it's not some industry-concocted "supergroup." The band is made up of friends who decided one day to put together a band as a kind of escape valve from their other groups. Somewhat surprisingly, their first album sounds almost exactly like a combination of all the members' bands. You get the big power pop hooks of Phantom Planet, the strutting lite-funkiness of Maroon 5, and most importantly, the strong female vocals of Rilo Kiley and the Like all combined into a shiny and radio-ready package. Anyone expecting them to go off in some weird musical tangent, or to reject the corporate indie machine they all are a part of, will be disappointed. Instead, on its debut album, Suicide Pact, the group doles out super-slick modern pop (with the occasional off-kilter guitar or keyboard to liven things up) that's filled with razor-sharp choruses and hooks strong enough to hang your winter coat on. Songs like "Suicide Pact," "Never Enough," and "Heartbeat" feel like they were designed in a perfect pop research facility and built out of radio waves. The rest of the album has moments of uptempo kick (the very Like-like "Cleverly Disguised," the peppy male/female duet "LAX"), pleasantly downcast ballads ("You Were My Home," "Poolside"), and a lot of tracks that sound like a less computer-y Garbage or a less dramatic Metric. It would all add up to a well-built and fun, but somewhat empty, experience if not for one important factor: the voice of Z. Berg. She has the ability to give even the most generic tracks on the album a huge injection of personality and heart with her singing. She can croon sweetly, stalk like a tiger, or rock like a smoky Debbie Harry; whatever the song needs, she delivers. Her vocals on the band's inspired slowed-down cover of Tyrone Davis' soul classic "Can I Change My Mind" are alone worth the price of admission. Indeed, apart from the handful of songs that would work even if sung by a robot, Berg is the main reason to give JJAMZ and their debut album a chance. It probably won't end up anyone's favorite album, and it's not good enough that the band's members should quit their day jobs, but it's not bad. And once again, Z. Berg! She's really good. ~ Tim Sendra