Dylan Gilbert's progression as a singer-songwriter, from incessantly touring, energetic solo act to leader of egalitarian, experimental pop band Hectorina, has been fairly linear, but his songs are anything but. Hectorina's greatest strength is perhaps its polyglotism, mining psychedelia, surf and garage-rock to buoy Gilbert's folk- and pop-oriented indie rock.
Jackals is nominally a breather EP following the under-cooked rock opera Collywobble, but it was recorded before Collywobble was released. As such, it's a truer follow-up to the band's Hey Hey Safety Man debut EP, and a larger referendum on where the band is heading.
Jackals spends its 20 minutes skittering between riffs and ideas, and though Hectorina's riffs have gotten more interesting and more challenging, the execution of how they string those riffs together into cogent forms is still developing. Too often, Hectorina simply staples pieces together. The intriguingly jittery opening of "Ice Dragon on Ice" dissipates too quickly into rote, tired waltzing-time sway-and-croon indie rock. The diminished chords that race into the shouty chorus of "He Looked Just Like THIS!" don't achieve the intended dissonant effect; they just sound out of place in an otherwise solid effort. The disparate parts of "King Couti" — the free-association weirdo-funk, the alt-pop chorus, the spazzy post-punk breakdowns — barely fit together at all.
But there are moments where the band channels its restlessness to great effect. The left turn into the bouncy bridge of "Orchard Breath" is a good counterbalance to the song's dark groove. "We're a Falling Silver Death Machine" flows gracefully from shadowy surf to conflagratory garage-rock and back again. And at just 21 seconds, "This Must Be Where Pies Go to Die" feels not like filler but an unfinished idea, and its over-caffeinated noise-pop deserves revisiting.
"I've gotta say that it works sometimes," Gilbert sings on "He Looked Just Like THIS!" And he's right, though inadvertently — Jackals works, but only sometimes. Too often, its sonic mish-mash is little more than an interesting mess, but its exemplary moments — "Silver Death Machine" and "Pies," in particular — shine, and point to the band's promise.