Smoke & Jackal – EP 1

Smoke & Jackal

With a year’s worth of free time from touring and recording with Kings of Leon, bassist Jared Followill teamed up with Mona frontman Nick Brown to make booze-fueled, off-the-cuff recordings with a desire to create their own soundtrack. The Nashvillian duo named themselves Smoke & Jackal after spending eight nights in Brown’s basement with bottles of wine in hand and having the modest intention of posting whatever resulted to YouTube. The duo did the production and mixing by themselves, and Brown served as the engineer. The six songs drenched in moody atmospherics and reliance upon quiet-loud dynamics that comprise EP1 were the result.

In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Followill described playing “vibe-y” records from the likes of Beach House over some of the duo’s favorite movies as inspiration. One film Followill singled out is Nicolas Winding Refn’s beloved 2011 Ryan Gosling vehicle, Drive, an unspeakably cool, seductive flick with an sexily atmospheric, synth-and-dub-swathed soundtrack that gave the film much of its fashionable DNA.

Smoke & Jackal want to be certain fans know the sound of EP1 is different than what they would expect to find on a Kings of Leon or Mona album. That’s true, but the resulting songs clearly were not made in a vacuum either. First single “No Tell” is the closest these songs come to sounding like either band. The upbeat energy, layered and fussed-over production, and devil-may-care nihilism in a story about getting head from a too-young girl in a hotel room wouldn’t have felt all that out of place alongside “Sex on Fire” and “17″ on KoL’s crossover breakthrough, Only by the Night.

For any curiosity as to Smoke & Jackal’s sound being indebted to Cliff Martinez’s Drive OST, consult the opening notes and production of “Roadside.” It’s not difficult to conjure Driver kicking in teeth and speeding the post-midnight L.A. streets in his scorpion jacket and leather gloves at any of EP1‘s 22 minutes. Followill and Brown wear their notorious cool on their sleeves here, but the results don’t add up to being as cool as their influences. Just because you adore Beach House’s Bloom (one of the best records of 2012) and Drive (the best film of 2011), doesn’t mean you can recreate their excellence and intelligent seduction by willing them into existence with a few bottles of wine, throwaway lyrics about underage blowjobs, and the occasional, rousing chorus that straddles the lines of pretension and over-production (“Ok Ok”).

Aside from lyricism (which generally holds equal measure with melody and musicianship in my book), EP1 isn’t necessarily a bad album; it can be engaging and even enjoyable in the right red-eye moments when you’re in the mood to soundtrack your goings-on in the city streets and want to sing along without caring much about what you’re singing. On their first outing, Smoke & Jackal succeed in teaming up as friends to create an independent sound from their respective bands. Instead of pulling off a groundbreaking or unique achievement, they’ve set their sights on recreating cool from sights and sounds that were vital in their original incarnation but end up hackneyed and mostly uninteresting as the coolness loses its luster the second time around.

Buying impossibly cool rags secondhand and then shredding them in order to piece them back together with lesser fibers will never add up to an equally winning threads no matter how much you fuss over the stitching.


EP1 is out now via RCA Records.

Smoke & Jackal


1. Fall Around
2. No Tell
3. You’re Lost
4. Roadside
5. Ok Ok
6. Save Face

Smoke & Jackal – “No Tell”

We're looking for writers and editors to join the team. Interested? Apply today!