What does it take to be a rock star in 2011? As YouTube videos, iTunes charts, music blog buzz, and PR spam from every band with a MySpace account try to anoint the next hot sensation, what’s original one year rapidly turns stale the next. It’s getting hard to figure out what a band has to do to really break out.
So instead of endlessly searching for the sound no one’s heard before, French rock two-piece Jamaica dug back.
Picking apart American rock music clichés of the past 20 years, Antoine and Flo poured everything that seemed tried and true into a blender and hit puree. The scrapbook effect — bits and pieces of bands/ideas/effects they like, from Nirvana to Phoenix — permeates every part of the band, from the melodies to the pop production to the videos to the name they chose. The duo’s self-aware embrace of rock star clichés could be seen as far back as their days as Poney Poney, the band with a video (“Cross the Fader”) that deconstructed every aspect of a song, from guitar progressions to meaningless lyrics.
Adding another layer of interest however, Jamaica takes this approach with a quintessentially French concept of pop music in mind, benefitting from the services of Justice’s Xavier de Rosnay and Daft Punk’s Peter Franco, who give Jamaica an electronic feel without ever reverting to synths. Between Antoine and Flo’s song writing, the European dance music emperors’ mixing board magic, and the band’s analytical everything-matters approach to rock music, Jamaica’s impossibly catchy sound and will stick in your head whether you want it there or not…until you decide that, yeah, this is awesome.
Yet beneath the sugary infectiousness of the music, Jamaica harkens back to the best of ’90s alternative rock. Invited to perform an intimate acoustic set for MTV Iggy Live, stripped of the electronic sheen and the rock star stage stance that Antoine loves so much, a different side of Jamaica came out. A grunge-era earnestness and a startling plaintiveness that carries echoes of great MTV Unplugged performances of days long past. The real Jamaica, despite all the collage work that surrounds their image, is a band. That’s what makes them rock stars.