Whenever I tell a friend about The John Holmes Book Club I get one of two reactions: a hearty chuckle over the absurdity of the band’s name or a dumbfounded “who is John Holmes?” The Cameron Switzer-led quartet barged onto the Toronto music scene in 2009 with a loud blend of folk and punk. They were well known for their chaotic and often messy live shows as well as the occasional bout of cross-dressing. Their debut EP “Open Wounds”, which was recorded entirely live off the floor, tackled sensitive subjects such as vampire lust, late-term abortion and arson with the subtlety of a chainsaw in a library.
Five years and a handful of lineup changes later, the JHBC has released their first full length record “Skin To Skin”. Don’t be fooled by the album cover. The first thing that’s apparent upon listening is that Switzer has matured. (whether that’s a good thing or not depends on your personal preference) Long gone is the punk energy that seeped out of every orifice. The production is cleaner and the fuzzy guitars have been replaced by pianos and violins, at times giving the songs a spaghetti western feel (particularly on “Pride & Patience” and “Gunslinger”)
This isn’t to say that the old sound has been abandoned completely. To the contrary there are still a couple ragers like “Anarchy” and “You’ve Got Something”. But the songs that set out to ruffle feathers – the attention-starved “Thirty-Three” and the slobberknocker “Fight Tonight” – skew slapstick rather than black comedy.
This record is the sound of a band all grown up. The musicianship is stronger and Switzer’s vocals are able to cover a variety of themes with ease. (a couple of the songs are downright endearing.) If “Open Wounds” was a porno, “Skin to Skin” is the Hollywood teen comedy that everyone can enjoy.