Cosmic rule dictates that only one member of any given boy band can truly be a superstar once the collective has run its course. This is known as the Timberlake Paradigm, and in the case of the Jonas Brothers, the ascendant alpha is Nick. Between his acting (particularly on the painfully underseen DirecTV series Kingdom) and his recent chart success with grown and sexy singles like “Chains” and “Jealous,” Nick has done the best job of leaving his Disney tween star life behind.
It’s still too early to tell whether or not Joe can join Nick in the upper echelon, but the debut EP by his new combo DNCE is a solid step in the right direction. This isn’t the first time we’ve heard him away from his harmonizing brothers—his 2011 solo album Fastlife was the first post-Brothers solo project, a bubbly but mildly disposable collection of pop tunes that sounded of-the-minute but muddled. He’s much more at ease on Swaay, which splits the difference between his former band’s slick power pop and the electro-kissed pop stylings of his solo album.
DNCE is something of a supergroup: in addition to Jonas, it counts Semi Precious Weapons bassist Cole Whittle, former Jonas Brothers drummer Jack Lawless, and guitarist JinJoo Lee, who has toured with everybody from Jordin Sparks to Cee Lo Green to Charli XCX. They have a spry, playful chemistry on Swaay, particularly on the closing number “Jinx,” which somehow marries a stately power ballad thump to a whimsical kazoo riff in a way that ends up making sense. It’s the type of heart-on-sleeve chest-pounder that fits Jonas’ arena-ready pipes best. He’s less comfortable on the disco-funk falsetto spaz “Cake By the Ocean,” which is fortunate to have a bass line as bubbly as it is—any less funky and it would devolve into a tired Maroon 5 pose. The band is better off when it’s getting weird anyway—the shape-shifting groove of “Pay My Rent” deftly darts between Sly Stone funk and torch song throb.
At only four tracks, it’s impossible to tell whether or not DNCE will be able to maintain the level of energy and invention they’ve show on the EP. (Actually, its length may be beneficial—just as Swaay’s sugar shows signs of rotting your teeth, it’s over.) However, it is pretty clear what type of band they want to be, and they’ve absolutely got the chops and the instincts to carve out a funky, buoyant place on pop radio. Nick will remain the Timberlake, but Swaay is a dynamic piece of evidence against Joe becoming the JoBros’ Chris Kirkpatrick.