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

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.

My Fictions – “Stranger Songs”

Grade: A-

Key Tracks: “Mt. Misery” “Postcard”

Boston group My Fictions know how to do hardcore right. Their new album, “Stranger Songs,” is fast, slick and uses volume to punish the listener’s emotions, not just their eardrums. At 10 songs and 28 minutes, it’s the work of a band that sounds frustrated and confused by the world around them, and they take out their feelings as quick as they can, with no unnecessary embellishments. “Stranger Songs” is loud and assaulting, with a dark and uncertain tone to boot.

The album’s opening track, “Mt. Misery,” starts with a bit of a cop-out intro, before jumping suddenly into a menacing, hardcore blast. Its follow-up, “Postcard,” the shortest track on the album, is an all-out assault on the listener. It is, as many of the songs are, centered on the frantic and explosive drumming that drives the beat further and further into submission. “Parking Lot” and “Stranger” also play around with false or building openings, and the energy behind the kit never lets up throughout the album.

But the album isn’t just about volume, it’s about using it properly. The album has an almost tantric feel to it, quickly softening and building back up, sometimes hitting a huge climax, sometimes not. “Airport Song” drops off completely at the end, leaving just faint bass notes and distant vocals. “Lower (A Selfish Song)” slows down towards the end for a punishing mid-tempo climax that’s as abrasive as they can get. My Fictions don’t come out of the gate and pound the listener into the ground with speed and volume – they welcome the quieter moments and tempo changes that enhance the hardcore sound.

“Stranger Songs” is not a summer album. I’d been receiving e-mails from (the excellent) Topshelf Records about the album’s release for months prior, but it’s a little difficult to get into it when I have the air conditioner running. It’s a dark and dense album, with the lyrics’ emotions coming out through the strained vocals. The band have an aura of unbridled frustration, no more apparent than on the aptly-named “Wake Anxious.” The guitars are dissonant and thundering, the drums heavy and the vocals distant and screamed. They sound disturbed by something, just in general, and use this album as their release. The album’s midpoint, “Concern,” is centered around a soundclip of someone asking a poet, “How can you write poetry if you’re not bothered by something?,” a line that comes up again in the final song. Taking a thunderous approach to your music only works if we believe there’s the frustration and anger behind it, and it’s on display here. They’re bothered. And it comes on full force. So prepare yourselves.

On an unrelated side note, I will be attending grad school in the fall. That does put this blog’s name in jeopardy, for sure. But I will be going to Emerson which is, by sheer coincidence, partially pictured in the cover of this album. I would like to promise this didn’t influence this review but no guarantees.

If you like this, try: I’m not up on my hardcore, I’m usually floored by a hardcore band’s stability throughout an album. So I’d like to suggest fellow Boston band Defeater’s recent “Letters Home” album, a continuation of their insane multi-album concept.