Personnel: Michael Whitson (viola); Vanessa Freebairn-Smith (cello); Jessica Pearlman (oboe); Lara Wickes (English horn); Rob Schear (trumpet); Nick Daley (trombone); Justin Meldal-Johnsen (keyboards, percussion, programming).
Audio Mixer: Ken Andrews.
Recording information: Chez JMJ; Sunset sound; Unit 2.
Photographer: Natalie O'Moore.
Like a city skyline shimmering under a night sky, Jimmy Eat World's ninth LP, Integrity Blues, shines in the dark with glimmering production, a refreshed sense for hooks, and some new tricks to add to their catalog. After the less exciting Chase This Light and Invented, the quartet -- Jim Adkins, Rick Burch, Zach Lind, and Tom Linton -- resurrected some of their pop sense on 2013's Damage, but a piece of the puzzle was still missing. On Integrity Blues, they strike a clean balance between past and present, almost as if they aimed to modernize Bleed American and Futures. Recorded in Los Angeles, it's easy to see how the city's nocturnal coolness could influence the Arizona band. Here, they sound more like Silversun Pickups and late-era Death Cab for Cutie than their fellow emo-rock survivors on the Warped circuit. It's a welcome update to their decades-old style. "Sure and Certain" and "Pretty Grids" sound plucked straight from Better Nature, while "Through" and "You with Me" are as effervescent as anything Ben Gibbard could conjure. Allusions to past works appear on "It Matters" (a throwback to "Cautioners"), "You Are Free," and "The End Is Beautiful," strumming at the same heartstrings of Bleed American's more yearning moments. Elsewhere, Integrity Blues distinguishes itself with new adventures in experimentation. "Pass the Baby" is the album's standout centerpiece, a three-in-one journey through atmospheric textures, an expansive release, and an unexpectedly heavy coda that ends up sounding, surprisingly, like Tom Morello playing on Nine Inch Nails' The Fragile. They haven't gone this hard since "Nothing Wrong" or "Get It Faster." It's one of their best songs to date and the clearest example of the band's creative revitalization. The album closes in two parts on the title track and "Pol Roger," which expand their sound with a horn section and orchestral string swell. It's as raw and vulnerable as the more morose numbers on Keane's Under the Iron Sea, evaporating into the atmosphere on an angelic chorus of "na na na"s. Integrity Blues is Jimmy Eat World's most immediately accessible and focused album in years, a peak in the decades-old catalog of these reinvigorated and endearing stalwarts. ~ Neil Z. Yeung