Jonquil are, as of 2011, four men from Oxford – Hugo Manuel, Sam Scott, Robin McDiarmid and Dominic Hand – and 'Point Of Go' is their third (and yet, in a way, their first) record; an evolution, a transformation and a new start simultaneously.
Until last year the band were a working six-piece with two albums under their belt – 2006's 'Sunny Casinos' and 2008's 'Lions'. Then half the band splintered off to form Trophy Wife, leaving the remaining trio with a very prominent question mark hanging over their heads. “It was very touch and go whether we were even going to carry on,” explains vocalist and songwriter, Hugo. “There was a lot of debate as to what we should do and whether we should get three extra people in, but in the end we ended up making three people into one person to give it a new lease of life. Once we'd decided not to give up we thought 'Let's make it different'. The idea was to minimise what we need.”
So Jonquil went from six, to three to four. Then came the challenge of, essentially, changing the entire way they functioned as a band. Having previously shared a recording and rehearsal space with Foals which enabled them to write and edit in a predominantly live capacity, the band had to re-think how they would work both as a reduced quartet and without their established base ('The House Of Supreme Mathematics' is, sadly, no more). As Hugo elaborates: “We thought, well, let's stop and go back to how we used to work - recording in my bedroom and being a bit more abstract about it. Rather than all of us being in a room saying “Let's write a song”, we'd just get some interesting textures and drumbeats and build from there.” And yet, despite some factors suggesting otherwise, 'Point Of Go' emerged as a glimmeringly positive step in a new direction, a record that is, in their own words, “far more poppy and accessible” than anything they've previously written.
Recorded over a six-week period at the farmhouse studio of Andrew Halford – guitarist with Trophy Wife’s live band - it takes the band's summery, afro-beat flourishes and delicately intricate guitars and strips them back to a set of immediate, direct pop songs. From 'History of Headaches' - a low-slung slow-builder with a celebratory pay off for which Hugo’s solo project Chad Valley - whose two EPs to date garnered widespread critical acclaim and radio support – provided the blueprint, to the guitar-led, nostalgic vibes of 'Real Cold' and 'Run' – the result of wanting to write “one really, all out big song”, 'Point Of Go' is both thrillingly new and firmly still Jonquil. Perhaps the best example is even the most obvious- the album's two-part title track; one half a subtle, bare-bones ballad of utmost restraint, the other a more familiar, upbeat and technical offering, a sprightly yin to its introverted yang.
With influences rooted firmly in the past – from Fleetwood Mac to The Smiths, Chic and Earth, Wind and Fire to Arthur Russell – the quartet's third LP is an exercise in classic pop sensibilities held up by a modern backbone. It's an album that fully embraces what the 70s and 80s understood, and what seems to have been slowly lost in progressive cynicism and enforced complexity. “I've always found it very hard to write things that don't seem to be... obvious” shrugs Hugo. “To me it's obvious because it's good; people are expecting certain chords because it should happen. Pop is popular, and popular describes what people want to hear.” Crucially, however, it's an album that takes all these building blocks and assembles them into more than the sum of their parts, creating something that's fundamentally clever in its very simplicity.
With the album in the bag and plans afoot to record with Trophy Wife, now is the point where it all starts to go very, very right indeed.