THE PHILOSOPHERS ROCK: The Jean Paul Sartre Experience

THE PHILOSOPHER'S ROCK - Jean Paul Sartre Experience

A brand-new career overview of the beloved New Zealand Flying Nun band does a wonderful job of introducing the band to new listeners and filling in the gaps for those who might have encountered JPS Experience in passing during the 1990s. Below, watch some choice video clips and listen to a selection of audio tracks.

BY JENNIFER KELLY

“We walked into a video hell, it’s a strange, strange world of show and tell,” the B-side to Flying Nun band the Jean Paul Sartre Experience’s “Into You,” single begins. “Disappear” is both the name of the track and what this New Zealand band was about to do. By 1993, the band was nearing the end of its alternatingly exulting and frustrating run at jangle-pop fame.

JPS

I Like Rain (2CDs, Fire Records UK) tracks the band from its hissy, home-taped mid-1980s beginnings, through the damn-near perfect pop of first album cuts like “I Like Rain” and “Fish in the Sea,” on to the increasingly dark and droning second album Size of Food and out with the disappointing reach for commercial breakout of Bleeding Star. A charming all-members group interview tracks JPS Experience’s evolution from a gaggle of rebellious teenage music fans who could hardly play their instruments to an indie rock mainstay that never made the mark it deserved.

Disc one encompasses 1988’s uneven Love Songs and the Masked and Taped demos from 1985-1987, previously released as bonus material with Bleeding Star. It provides a glimpse at the band’s earliest acoustic lo-fi pop aesthetic, which culminated in the spare, lovely “I Like Rain.” The first album had some wonderful songs — “Fish in the Sea” follows a beautifully slack bass line through radiant swells of pop, “Flex” hints at the darker, more droning direction of later albums.

But it also includes some pretty awful material. In “Crap Rock” and “Bo Diddley” JPS Experience appears to make a run at being a jam band. The initial efforts tracked in Masked and Taped are also intermittently affecting and blissfully unaware of commerce. The title track has a jangly purity that reminds me of Tobin Sprout, while “Suzi Lustlady” is gorgeous, serene and NC-17 filthy.

The Size of Food, the long-delayed second album, makes up the core of Disc Two. It is here that JPS Experience takes a swerve towards electrification, drone and electronic manipulation. “Elemental” is the highlight, but the whole album is very strong and you have to share the band’s frustration about how long the record was shelved and what might have happened if it had been properly promoted.

JPS Experience and its new label Mushroom made an all-out push for global breakout with 1993’s Bleeding Star. The 1990s-redolent production favors booming gate-reverbed drums and a massive guitar sound. Songs like “Into You” and “Bleeding Star” have the heft and feedback overload of the louder Teenage Fan Club material, but you can hear them straining, a little, for anthemry. Released on Matador in the U.S., it became the first JPS Experience most Americans ever heard, and while I enjoyed it then and still think it’s better than the band members give it credit for, it was pretty far from the album they wanted to make. Recording Bleeding Star and touring it afterwards exhausted any remaining goodwill among the players, and they broke up soon afterwards.

I Like Rain does a wonderful job of introducing the band to new listeners and filling in the gaps for those who might have encountered JPS Experience in passing during the 1990s. The long essay provides good context about the band’s development, from early giddy enthusiasm to later stress and strife. It also makes you wonder where these guys would have ended up, if they’d had the decades together that contemporaries like the Clean and the Bats enjoyed. As it is, the JPS Experience made some terrific music that most people missed – what a great chance to catch up.

 

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