Jotto has a background like no other; their music has spent the past three years living in the nightclubs, bars, galleries, and warehouses of Philadelphia and upon graduating art school, they’ve taken the time to record their first E.P. Okay, so maybe their story isn’t exactly unique, but the music that they’ve produced is some of the most interesting to come from the artists currently emerging out of the Philadelphia and Brooklyn art scenes.
Over the years Jotto’s sound has shifted from pretentious “rock poetry,” to the kind of Dance Rock found in bands who would support Panic! At The Disco, but for their E.P., the band has left behind anything one-dimensional that they have explored and come up with something that’s extremely danceable, but not juvenile and clever, without being pompous. They’ve toned down all clichés and come out as a band that would be equally at home in a coffee shop or a dance party.
The album is a musical homage, of sorts, to the legends of NYC. “On The Road,” has the band sounding like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs in their lighter moments; the Jazzy, horn-laden “Backyard Circus” holds more than just a passing similarity to Luscious Jackson; and at time’s vocalist Aaron Fisher-Cohen’s lazy, untrained vocals are almost reminiscent of Johnny Thunders in ballad mode. Unfortunately, there are also moments when the band sounds more like the cheesy pop of Beck, but they generally stick to their influences of a higher quality.
If you’re not busy guzzling PBR and shaking your ass to the New Wave grooves of tracks like “Future,” you’ll find that the heart of the band seems to lie in Fisher-Cohen’s lyrical storytelling. For this release, he’s crafted six witty, yet poignant tales of NYC, being on the road, and jaded chicks from the perspective of any other young art-schooler who might not have his ability to reflect quite so eloquently. There are, however several beyond trite references to “diner lights,” “punk haircuts,” and a “C.B.G.B. girl,” which come off sounding like pathetic attempts at scene credibility that tend to smudge his narration.
The biggest problem with this debut is that before going into the studio for the first time, the group made the decision to write all new material, instead of finally recording the songs that they had been crafting and rearranging over the years in front of Philadelphia audiences. Consequentially, the music found on the E.P. is not necessarily the band’s best. While none of the songs included are especially poorly constructed, they’re not indicative of what the group have proven to be capable of. Besides, it would’ve been nice to give fans a chance to own all of their favorite songs that previously could only be heard on MySpace or in concert.
Even though their debut sounds somewhat lackluster and rushed, the release of Jotto’s E.P. legitimizes their place in the scene and ensures that it’s only a matter of time before they have people in striped scarves dancing on crushed cans of PBR and first-year photography students waxing poetic about the beauty of growing up in New Jersey. — Izzy Cihak