What they do is dense, but not pretentiously complex. It’s at times obtuse, but slowly beats itself back into shape. Challenging? Sure, but let it dig under the skin and it becomes a deeply feverish type of “soul” music. The quartet are nearly six months removed from releasing their debut album, Carne Lavare, but it’s taken that much time to finally “get it,” to uncoil its layered intrigue and allow for an ultimately transformative experience.
Pretty heady for High Street—but The American Jobs have zero contemporaries in this city. With wobbly grooves, skeletal post-punk physique, and the constant moan of Brad Hershfeldt’s saxophone hanging in the air like a vengeful ghost, the band creates a “dark lounge” or “sophisticated tribalism,” which triggers multiple senses and levels of emotion simultaneously. How the band arrived at such a sound could be linked to the path followed by the cadre of Youngstown ex-pats to Columbus, wherein they started confounding musical endeavors, including Cum Daemon, Sword Heaven, and bassist Aaron Klamut’s short-lived but conceptually satisfying Jam Division (which played reggae versions of Joy Division songs). According to singer and band magus Nathan Reynolds, one theory is that The American Jobs hailed from Northeastern Ohio, and many from there have Eastern European roots, and “a good deal of Eastern Europeans are weird. Maybe it’s a secret power?”
“It seems to me that the fetishization of music in the last 10 years has prevented a fair amount of bands from paying attention to the experience they are actually having,” Reynolds said of The American Jobs’ organic germination. “It seems that rather than consulting themselves or ‘the unknown’ in times of writing, the vast majority of acts take to the endless culture demiurge of the Internet for instructions to become whatever they think is the best part of the genre they align themselves with. We are what we vomit out.”
The “purging” on Carne Lavare was fed with a binge of The Cure and Roxy Music, chunks of Leonard Cohen and Throbbing Gristle stuffed in the creases, and the shadow of Jodorowsky and David Lynch looming overhead as artistic inspiration. Still, they resemble none of the above. The album plays instead like the afterbirth of the once nascent and thriving Columbus noise scene, except moodier, more structured, less cluttered and visceral. Taking themselves too seriously or not seriously at all—an ambiguity that permeates every bit of The American Jobs modus operandi. It’s even found in the album’s title.
Carne Lavare is loaded in translation, literally meaning “to lift, or take away, the flesh, or meat,” it’s both sinister and playful. According to Reynolds, many scholars believe it to be the base of the word “carnival,” another term that has many meanings, be it a week-long lawless bacchanal or the celebration of an expiatory figure.
“It’s a title that has a lot of room to work with,” Reynolds said. “ For me, there appears to exist an impulse release on a grand undefined level. I can already think of two more meanings. I like parties, mysticism, low-brow sexual references, and the reoccurrence and persistence of bizarre cultural dogmas. Plus, who hasn’t fantasized about their death being a gift for all?”
That last part makes perfect sense, as The American Jobs’ live shows are a site to behold. The “static” nature of their record can’t appropriately capture the burning smudge sticks of mugwort, the cheap beer out of a martini glass, the guttural gibberish and physical flailing. Be it performance art, tragic comedy, or near liturgy, each night is its own adventure. Again, I asked Reynolds about the balance in these ceremonies. How much is real and how much is faked?
“I’m not really sure that you can separate absurdity from ritual. Each of us commits to certain rituals daily. These rituals carry with them real outcomes for our lives; whether we do the 9 to 5 thing to summon a middle class existence, or drink our daily coffee to evoke extra vitality. When you see through [the] veil and realize it is all an illusion, you inherently need absurdity to keep you pushing. Just because you can peek through to the other side doesn’t mean you have lost any of your desires.”
And thus the enigma of The American Jobs is explained—esoteric, metaphysical, philosophical, primal, and sophisticated, or, just another day at the office.