by Eric Broome for Mean Street magazine, December 2002
It's the voice that you remember the most. That piercing howl, spiraling high above the music's measured churn. Stretched raw, seemingly to the point of near-hemorrhage, Jimmy Gnecco's vocal acrobatics are the cornerstone of Ours' ravaged anthems. Just check out "Broken," from the group's new album Precious. As Gnecco repeatedly screams "He'll break," inching upward to an explosive peak, you'll hide your glassware in terror. No doubt about it -- the man has pipes.
Gnecco understandably resists being viewed as a stunt vocalist, but acknowledges that his voice is a calling card. "We've tried over the years to put a lot of other elements into the music, as far as distinct guitar parts and things. To make it not just about my voice. But I've been singing for awhile, and about 13 years ago, I realized, OK, I can do this. And I figured out how to really push that upper area of my voice. That's when I first started thinking, yeah, I'm onto something. It's not like I wake up every day and say 'I'm a singer, that's what I do.' But I do have confidence in knowing how to push myself."
Precious is a grittier sequel to last year's meticulously assembled Distorted Lullabies Now based around a stable quintet rather than a loose gang of collaborators, Ours digs into Gnecco's wounds with a renewed intensity. Embellished with some sparse lines of Mellotron and organ, the music banks on a steady roll of shuffling guitar strums, artfully traded between him and second guitarist Dave Milone.
"I made up just about every part on the first album," Gnecco says. "I filled in all the blanks. This one's a different mentality. We didn't want to overdo it with 10 guitar parts and all that. We wanted to feel the presence of each individual. That was the approach with everything, sonically. There's a guitar on the left, a guitar on the right. My voice is right there. The bass and drums, you hear and feel. You know, just inspired by early rock records. We didn't want to put 48 tracks of texture on it. We did that with the last one."
At its best, Precious is a sharp blend of dramatic melody and Gnecco's impassioned wails. The disc's second half is uneven, but the early tracks throb with power. "Kill the Band" opens the album, with scratchy riffs and a shrieking lament about a crumbled bond. "Realize" has a similar theme of music-biz disillusion, boosted by a Zeppelin-like crunch of heavy drums and chopped guitar chords. "Places" is a delicately beautiful waltz ("There's a hole in my soul/How much more will it take?"), while "Leaves" is the hypnotic single with its airborne chorus, overdubbed harmonies and typical despair about a brutal, chilly world.
It's too easy to tag Gnecco as just another tormented singer-songwriter with a martyr complex, but for him, exploring life's miseries actually has an upbeat motive.
"When something terrible happens or you're just feeling depressed about things, you tend to be a better human being at those moments. I like to write songs which make people feel that way, because I hope, in return, it makes people want to be better people. Not that a happy song can't do that, but it has just never been my makeup to do that. To sing something like, you know, 'I'm walking on sunshine' has never been in me."
Gnecco's writing has a strident, spiritual bent which draws awestruck devotion from his fans, but he holds onto a healthy wariness of fame. He's not ready to become an alt-rock pinup, just yet.
"Stardom is a different thing from success. We're shooting to be successful in what we set out to do, and that's to make good music which affects people in the same ways that we were affected by music when growing up. Stardom is a famous dog that you see on TV. That's not us. It never has been. We just want to be a successful group of people who has come together to do something much bigger than themselves."
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