Los Angeles nontet Jail Weddings are now six years into a career that by bandleader Gabriel Hart's own admission wasn't expected to last six months, due to intense internal dynamics that have seen the band at times descend into onstage brawls with one another. Indeed this fractious collective lost and replaced three new members during a recording process that ran for over a year and has resulted in their sophomore effort Meltdown: A Declaration of Unpopular Emotion. Released on Neurotic Yell Records, it is an album that seeks to drive their multi-layered ensemble playing in into more grandiose and creatively diverse spaces, with allusions to everything from Celtic folk to Springsteen-esque anthemics, whilst still retaining their Phil Spector meets Bad Seeds signature touchstones.

These core influences can be heard on the opening couplet of Meltdown..., beginning with Hart's lone, menacing baritone on 'There is a Distance', which is accompanied by a sparse piano line and fragile harmonies before exploding into a wall-of sound mariachi band refrain that collapses in on itself almost as soon as it begins. It clocks in at less than two minutes and yet seems to brim with every facet of the band's sound and experience. This strong opening continues into the second track 'May Today be Merciful', which possesses the energetic gospel jangle of Abattoir Blues-era Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, as the upbeat backing vocals fight engagingly with Hart's dark lyricism to create an intriguing anti-pop sentiment.

It's when these two elements collide that Jail Weddings are at their most effective, such as on the stripped back doo-wop opening to 'Angel of Sleep' or on 'Summer Fades', that begins as a maudlin folk lament before mutating seamlessly into an unsettling surf-guitar refrain. In fact the highlights of Meltdown... come not when all nine members are diving in together sonically, but when they are allowed to dance around one another, with snatches keys crawling across drum rolls ('Obsession') or Hart's lounge-leer winding it's way around the retro shuffle of 'Party Girl'. Although having said that they do also manage to serve up a superb slice of Springsteen-fuelled good time Rock and Roll in the form of 'Dead Celebrity Party', that acts as a welcome departure from the intensity that pervades the majority of Meltdown....

Indeed the only low-points of the album appear to come when the band seem to step back into a more traditional song structure. The two waltz-time tracks 'A Promise' and 'It's Not fair' seem to stroll along without incident and offer little of the dynamic punch of the stronger moments on Meltdown..., and the lyrically cluttered album coda of 'Don't Invite me to Your Party' seems an unnecessary and sedate bookend, rather than the stripped back anthem it was perhaps intended to be.

But these negatives cannot detract too much from what is a very engaging and considered set from Jail Weddings, which certainly represents a worthwhile result from what appears to have been an at times difficult and epic creative conception, and will hopefully ensure Hart and Co. can continue to mould, expand and distort their dark-pop formula for some time to come.