I wandered into a Junius show by accident. That happens sometimes -- you go to see a couple of local acts you are familiar with, and sandwiched in between them will be some hapless touring act, brand new and seeking exposure. Sometimes they are bad and need some time to develop, but occasional you get a band who has obviously been slogging it out in the underground scene in their own town, and now they are trying to branch out. That last class of band is usually the best in that you get an act who know what they are doing and have honed their songs for maximum effect. Kind of like seeing an Atlanta act who have been playing, more or less, the same show around town for a year. By the end of the year, they have it really down.
Junius fall into that latter, better, category. They are from Boston, and they really impressed me in concert. So i picked up this 5 track EP at the show, and tried to offer encouragement to a touring act who found themselves playing to 50 people in a trailer/biker bar.
The EP itself, well, let's look at the songs.
[Elan Vital] is the lead off track. This is a nice rocking tune with chiming guitars, thunderous drums, and the singer, Joseph E. Martinez, singing in a rather Robert Smith vocal style. The music works really well, in that it ebbs and flows wonderfully under a weight of distortion and fast rhythms. This is what i remember them sounding like in concert.
Hiding Knives starts with a cacophony of guitars. This is kind of a modern rock tune, and i can see it getting radio play. That said, it's not bad at all, and the way the guitars chime on the verses is really nice. Of course, the choruses feature all instruments going at it fully, so it gets noisy and messy in what has become a tired formula. Still, the band manages to tie in a bit of a Hum tribute in the extreme guitar crunchiness. It's not a bad song, but is a little more generically radio friendly than i typically enjoy.
From the Isle of the Blessed is a song in which the band shake it out a little bit, clearly showing their fondness for Hum. Hey, i love Hum, and it's good to see a band start a song with a flurry of drumming and crunchy power chords in a very Hum-like way. After the song gets going, it becomes a sparser affair, with the guitar really echoing (almost a la Marty Wilson-Piper of The Church) and Martinez's voice really clear. Of course it gets messy and Hummy on the chorus in that very typical modern rock radio format type of way, but i really don't mind it here. This songs works for me, even if it breaks no new ground.
[Elan Fatale] is an insanely messy song. There are metal guitars, soaring chiming guitars, a bass riff lifted from the Metallica catalog, lots of cymbal crashes, Martinez's voice buried in the mix, and another voice screaming in that "death metal" sort of way. It's a weird mix, and i guess this is some sort of reprise from the first tune. It works for the most part.
Forcing out the Silence pretty much follows the slow quieter verses with loud faster choruses formula. The stuff the guitars do on the verses is really cool -- some nice arpeggios played with a bit of fuzz. The voice that sings harmony to Martinez here provides a strange effect. By himself Martinez sounds like Robert Smith, but with a harmony sung to his vocals, it suddenly reminds me a lot more of The Futureheads. Really. And that seems odd to me because i would never compare The Futureheads and the The Cure. It is some odd combination of the two voices, and it really works for Junius. The end of this song is great -- everything gets really loud, and the guitars build to a massive frenzy that sounds really nice. It's a great end to their EP.
After listening to the EP, i see that Junius are more "alternative rock" than shoegazer, at least on record. Of course, the band i saw was a four-piece while a three-piece recorded the EP, so i dunno what that means really. Will the next Junius outing be more shoegaze or more 90's alternative rock? Anyone who has read this site knows which one i vote for, but then again their 90's Alternative Rock sound isn't bad, for what it is. I would rather see Junius live than listen to this EP. Live Junius played slightly slower than they play here, and there was more distortion and less power chording on the guitars.... Or, well, maybe it was a really whacked mix at Lenny's.... Hmmm.
Well, let me say this -- Forcing Out the Silence would have been a million seller and earned the band MTV privileges had it come out in 1995 rather than 2005. The band is doing a style that is just slightly old, not old enough to be retro, but a little too old to feel really "with the times". Still, i respect them for doing what they want, and in their defense, they do it really well. If you really liked mid 90s alternative rock, then you need to pick up this EP.
I am, however, really curious to see what Junius do next. The band has obvious chops -- they know their instruments, they just need to break out of their songwriting pattern. It's somewhat played out. And since they have added a bassist since recording this EP, their current sound might very well be different. I guess the verdict is still out on this band.