The Jazz June – “after the earthquake”

Grade: B

Key Tracks: “over underground” “edge of space”

The dream of the 90’s is alive, and it’s a sad, forced dream. The Jazz June are back for their first album in 12 years, willfully back to participate in the emo movement that they helped spawn. Nothing has really changed in the interim – they’re still playing invitingly intimate songs with a half-forced energy that are equally ready for the radio and for the underground.

Most of the songs on the album deal, at least seemingly, with relationships and self-confusion. “stuck on repeat” has a repeated section of the line “I’m still trying to figure it out,” a line that lands harder coming from a band that’s been inactive for over a decade. The album is marked by lyrics that are somewhat vague but appropriate – “I still don’t know where you are” on “nothing to see here,” “You thought I was perfect / But you got it wrong” on “it came back.” “edge of space” is also pretty noteworthy, a track about Felix Baumgartner and the former astronaut who helped plan his famous dive. These somewhat muddy lyrics are more indicative of the 90’s emo scene that the Jazz June were heavily involved in, instead of the often hyper-specific lyrics of newer bands. And, it couples better with the equally muddy music.

The Jazz June, like many of their second wave-emo contemporaries, played relatively standard music. It’s distinguishably alternative, with an emo twist – think being influenced by early Weezer and actively trying not to sound like early Weezer. The downside is that some tracks don’t stand out. The upside is the ones that do really do. Opener “over underground” starts with a screeching guitar, sirening their return. And late album treasure “nothing to see here” has a big and unexpected guitar crunch in its chorus, one that helps to break up the album’s general midtempo nature. Otherwise, it’s pretty standard alternative fare – inoffensive, kind of inconsistent, but fitting.

To someone first coming into emo, being exposed to bands like, say, the Front Bottoms, or Glocca Morra or Radiator Hospital, the Jazz June might not make that much of a lasting impression at first. But their return is all about the melding of two eras – the Jazz June are back, Mineral are back, Braid are back. The Jazz June were and are a band’s band – though never famous, they’ve set the template for bands that have come since. The shoving out of third-wave emo and welcoming of fourth-wave has brought the once-young sad and melodic people of the 90’s out of hiding. The Jazz June are back, and hearing something so straightforward is really pretty refreshing.

The album comes out tomorrow, 11/11/14, on – where else – Topshelf Records.

If you like this, try: I just recommended this in a different review, but Prawn’s recent “Kingfisher” album speaks more of an older, bigger sound, than a newer, more condensed one.

-By Andrew McNally

Dads – “I’ll Be the Tornado”

Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “Grand Edge, MI” “Sold Year/Transitions”

Gone are the days of “Groin Twerk” and albums with ‘Radass’ in the title. Dads’ perpetual lyrical theme of growing up and drifting away comes stronger, as the Jersey duo mature in leaps and bounds over their last record. We saw this transition coming, on the decidedly not-so-emo “Pretty Good,” an EP that never really found it’s place. “I’ll Be the Tornado,” an LP, completes the transition into a serious, adult band. Except, they’re still punk.

Much like last year’s “Pretty Good,” the guys bounce around in a few different influences. This album has much more flow than “Pretty Good,” not trying to make any statements about the music, instead letting the audience accept it as it comes. The album’s acoustic opening isn’t a copout, it’s part of a build-up, and it’s unexpected. (And it’s reminiscent of this year’s largely acoustic Cardinal Cardinal EP, the side project of John Bradley). We’re still kind of expecting disassembled, roaring songs like “Get to the Beach!” but they’re not present. Instead, we get a number of flowing rock tracks, with occasional punk jams (“You Hold Back”), emo ballads (“But”) and some slight, leftover twee rhythms (“Chewing Ghosts”). “I’ll Be the Tornado” is more straightforward and accessible, if not still tough around the edges. Two part track “Sold Year/Transitions” has a rough and straining transition in the middle that’s fresher than most of the album’s other music. Dads feel comfortable falling into more traditional rock, but they can still pull it all off.

And they can pull it off because John Bradley’s lyrics, vocals and drums haven’t changed a note. “I’ll Be the Tornado” is a drum-heavy work, logical when you’re a duo with a drummer who sings lead. And Bradley’s lyrics are as ‘fresh’ as they’ve ever been. They have a certain ‘creative writing 101 course’ feel to them – poetic only in their specificity, direct, regretful and reminiscent. His lyrics are always unique, opting for straight punches rather than anything subversive. “I want to be happy,” Bradley starkly admits on “You Hold Back,” which seems a contrast to everything before and after it on the album. Bradley, and Scott Sharinger, explore feelings of unease and uncomfortable maturity, not knowing what to want or expect out of life. As with previous albums, many of their lyrics are based around falling back on memories because you can’t make anything of the future. “I need something new to obsess over,” says second track “Chewing Ghosts.” And reflections on others are present, as always. “You wanna hang Christmas lights in the summer/An excuse to spend time with each other” Bradley sings on “Sold Year/Transitions.” And Bradley also sings about his own dad’s health struggles, with references peppering the album throughout. The album is honest, even for Dads, with frank poetry and gut-hitting remembrances.

The only real fault of the album is that in its embrace of more traditional rock music, it sputters out towards the end. The album ends with “Take Back Today” and the 7+ minute “Only You,” both of which are musically pleasing songs, but aren’t the big finish the album needs. They’re both kind of ho-hum songs, not hitting the same level that the rest of the album does. So it dampers the album a bit, but not enough to discredit the eight songs before it. “I’ll Be the Tornado” is still a wildly and unexpectedly progressive album for the band, one that’s also regressive in many ways. It’s definiably Dads, but it’s more open, grittier, slower, clearer, and even more honest. Gone are the punk blasts, and they’re missed, but the replacements are more than welcomed.

If you like this, try: Prawn’s recent album, “Kingfisher,” another more mature sounding emo album, albeit one that takes an entirely different lyrical approach.

Prawn – “Kingfisher”

Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “Scud Running” “Absurd Walls”

Emo revivalists Prawn’s new album is full of light, airy and melodic songs that are often vague in tone but practiced in music. Though it has it’s weak moments, Prawn have been an uniquely line-teetering band for years, and “Kingfisher” only goes to continue it.

A Kingfisher is a bird. Specifically, a type of bright, distinct and goofy looking bird. One that has been known to eat fish. In many ways, a kingfisher is everything that Prawn is not. Prawn is vague and unassuming, at first. Their music isn’t showy, especially for emo. It’s rhythmic and often lucid, blending together into something that’s surprisingly pleasant. So a kingfisher makes sense, as the band spends the album threatening to be consumed by various existential forces (much like a fish getting swallowed up). It’s either ironic or totally fitting that Prawn have spent the last few years hanging out in the limelight of the emo revival. While some (Snowing, teen suicide) made news with almost immediate breakups, and some (TWIABPAIANLATD, the Front Bottoms) strain themselves to make something jarring and original, Prawn have been building their own blend of guitar rhythms and aligning melodies that’s more soothing than it is jarring – something that isn’t designed to make as immediate of an impact at first.

And “Kingfisher” is certainly filled with those interesting melodies. The album starts and ends with strings, that fall away for the eight songs in between. And the album does dissolve into straight rock – happening infrequently enough that it’s a surprise each time. Loopy guitar rhythms are big in emo these days, but Prawn bring it up a notch by relying equally on melodies that are either very repetitive or different throughout. “Prolonged Exposure” is a guitar-heavy track that emphasizes this, as is “Absurd Walls,” where twin guitar rhythms compete in the background, one giving way to sounding like a siren. Prawn have learned to embrace both slower, ambient songs, and louder, rocking ones, and hit every notch in between on “Kingfisher.”

On a lyrical note, the album does get kind of frustratingly vague. It’s filled with typically deep, sad, statements, often opting for philosophical questions about some hypothetical, impending disasters rather than any direct and reflective poetry. Sometimes, like on “Glass, Irony” it can work, with the line “It’s hard to hide in dire straits” shoved to the forefront of the song. Other times, like on “Thalassa,” it gets clunky. “I’m glad you found clarity in ambiguity” is repeated a few times at the song’s climax, a line that doesn’t exactly sound fresh. Some of the songs could’ve used some clarity themselves.

But “Kingfisher” is still a very strong release, one that’s both pleasant and devastating. Prawn are at the top of their game and, even if the top of their game is positioned in the genre’s background, then it’s what they’ve learned to excel in. At times sweet, at times sour, “Kingfisher” is just as good as we’ve come to expect from Prawn.

“Kingfisher” is out tomorrow, 8/12, on Topshelf Records.