Photo by Christopher Gardner
Sun Stroke: (L-to-R) Steven Chang, Matthew Murdock, Rob Uytingco of Jupiter Sun
San Jose's Jupiter Sun
glimmers in the pop sky
By Todd S. Inoue
In the music business, popularity is measured by chart tracking, station adds and store shipments. San Jose glimmer-pop band Jupiter Sun measures popularity its own way: fan mail from France.
"I've been getting a lot of weird letters from France, saying how they like the CD," says Matthew Murdock, guitarist, vocalist and primary spokesperson. "I get more letters from France than from America."
The mailbox has been stuffed with foreign envelopes ever since Slumberland, a Washington, D.C.-based indie label, took a liking to Jupiter Sun. The band contributed two tracks--"Headlight Beam Reaction" and "Violet Intertwine"--to an October 1994 compilation called Why Popstars Can't Dance. The next month, Slumberland put out a limited run of Jupiter Sun's self-titled debut.
Thanks to Slumberland, Jupiter Sun's two innocent pop sparklers have garnered a healthy worldwide audience of music fans weaned on the kind of pop-punk pioneered by K. Records. Occasionally, far-flung fans on the online discussion groups at alt.music.independent and alt.music.alternative will post a query about the band's whereabouts.
Locally, Jupiter Sun appeals to fans disinterested with the San Jose metal-thrash-rap scene. The band aligns itself instead with a burgeoning pop scene that includes the Blue Eskimos and Galileo Space Tribute. The Sun has opened for Matthew Sweet at F/X and made some low-budget tours of the western states.
Though the band claims San Jose as its home, Manchester, England, runs a close second. Jupiter Sun's obsession over English bands like the Stone Roses or Ride can easily be heard on the debut album. The songs are distinguished by chattering maracas, wispy tambourines and single-string melodies that waft in and out before fading away with a glint of distortion and a cymbal crash.
Murdock acknowledges the influence of the Stone Roses, Johnny Marr and Ride but maintains that Jupiter Sun is moving in its own direction--backward. "We don't listen to a lot of new stuff anymore. I listen to a lot of '60s pop music. I find it much more interesting." Murdock himself looks transported from another era, dressing in '70s thrift-store best and a haircut that takes me back to the fifth grade.
The band practices three times a week in Murdock's garage in East San Jose. In these cozy, somewhat stuffy confines, the band members create small symphonies of pop splendor. Murdock keeps time with Lennon-like foot taps. Bassist Steven Chang risks carpal-tunnel damage every time he starts to play. Rob Uytingco is loose and relaxed behind the kit despite the steady rush of percussion he produces.
The tracks on the recently released full-length CD, Atmosphere, move at a more deliberate, mature pace. Songs like "Supernova" and "Zookeeper" glimmer and glide as if the band had recorded them on a hovercraft. Murdock's elastic guitar and Chang's tapping bass gel perfectly. Murdock's voice floats like an echoey whisper. Uytingco's syncopated beats add dimension and flavor.
The new songs are rawer and more straightforward than those on the debut album. Murdock is airy as chiffon on "Thoughts." "Zookeeper" recalls early Trash Can Sinatras jangle pop in Murdock's impressionistic take on a daydream. As a nod to its past, tracks 7-11 are taken directly from Jupiter Sun's first EP. Rough and shimmering, it's like listening to Jupiter Sun's baby pictures. Live, the band included pop gems like "Blow Up" and "Headlight Beam Reaction." Even the seductive pop bliss of "Violet Intertwine" is capable of floating you off to distant galaxies.
The band regularly finds time to stretch out its musical limbs and jam. One of the crowd favorites is a spry instrumental without a name that concludes each set. Part Jimi Hendrix Experience, part Three O'Clock, the ecstatic groove weaves the best of both generations into a chaotic, sprawling centerpiece for the live show. It is the essence of old and new, what Murdock describes as "ear candy"--pure, interesting, and melodic.
"The direction we're going for is a more arranged and orchestrated one," Murdock explains. "Both Steve and I are interested in piano, and less [in] a straight rock sound. We want to go beyond the basic guitar-bass-drums."
Jupiter Sun headlines "Super Spy Night" with the Odd Numbers and Clay Wheels on Thursday (Oct. 19) at 9pm at F/X, 400 S. First St., San Jose. Tickets are $5. (408/298-9796)
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