Monday, January 21, 2008

CD Review: Junior Revolution's "It's A Process..."

by Dave Schaefer

Hailing from that city down south, Cincinnati’s Junior Revolution released a notable CD this past November. The album, titled It’s A Process..., is a striking mix of emotion and music that makes your ears take notice and your mind contemplate the intricacies of its lyrics.

And oddly enough, it’ll make you homesick for Cincinnati -- regardless of whether you call the city home or not.

Junior Revolution is Jayson Hazelbaker (vocals, guitar), Daniel Erb (vocals, guitar, keys), Brian Miller (vocals, bass), and Chris Denholm (drums). Their sound is rich, symphonic and full without being overdone. Their lyrics are deep, thought-provoking, and are something that aren’t easily dismissed. The combination creates a musical force that demands a personal response.

It’s A Process... is a 7-song CD that’s a melancholic journey, the listener contentedly traveling along with Junior Revolution as they explore the paths of life that are ultimately relative to everyone. That’s one of the many appealing things about the CD -- over and over again, the listener is faced with lyrics that are relatable and one that may well have come from their own heads, mind-read by Daniel, Jayson, Brian and Chris. Likewise, the music is often a beautiful, inseparable match to the lyrics.

The impression you get is that Junior Revolution created these songs without having a genre, formula, or marketing scheme in mind. They’re not particularly danceable. They’re not pop. They’re not shoe-gazing emo (however emo is defined this week). They’re purely from the souls of the musicians. And because of this, they’re damn good.

Here’s the song-by-song rundown:

City That Never Sleeps
The back-and-forth vocals, as though from two different conversations, catches your attention from the outset of this track. The song is anthemic and leads you on a path with twists and turns both musically and lyrically as it tells a tragic story with imagery that’s striking and an arrangement that helps move it along without the least bit of interruption.

And We Were Country Before Country Was Cool
This song ultimately tracks a happier story, but in a definite melancholic path. If it doesn’t make you homesick for that home where you haven’t been back to for a long time, it’ll at least make you wish you were from Cincy. The vocals on this track hit a bullseye and the music -- especially the solitary bell in the closing seconds -- is spot-on. I do wish the title matched the song better. I’m not clear as to the purpose of it, since it has nothing obvious to do with the song, and I think it cheapens a truly beautiful track.

Calmer Than You Are
This is a strange addition to the CD. Though musically it’s strong -- the beginning and end reminiscent of the opening music of a 1950s sci-fi B movie -- its flight attendant monologue is a bit odd. Having said that, I found that it grew on me and discovered that it did indeed flow well with the album as a whole. On the other hand, if it weren’t included, I certainly wouldn’t have missed it.

If Clouds Made Sounds
Sounding as though singing in a tunnel or through distant megaphone, this song is an emotion-filled track, but the audio tricks keep the listener at a distance and you find yourself easily thinking about other things during this track. Before you know it, it fades to silence and you realize it’s over and you have to hit the “back” button and replay it, hoping you don’t zone out again. When you do pay attention to it, it’s got some interesting things going on both musically and lyrically, but they don’t come together well and it makes for a fairly undynamic song.

Klondike Scare
With a clever “Dave Matthews” opener, this is certainly a song that makes you take notice of it. And with lyrics like “Everything lately seems a mess at best | And the hits just keep on coming. | Let’s raise ‘em high | This toast is to rolling | With the punches” sung in a chorale style, it’s one that makes you keep coming back. Granted, the vocals and music stylings don’t quite work with one another, but the overall feel of the song allows you to overlook the flaw.

Manic D
The jazzy start to this track is snappy and in contrast to the cacophony that quickly follows. It then drops back into the light jazz and vocals that match up perfectly. Before you know it, it bites into a driving rock chorus with riffs that compliment the jazz before it and the vocals in front of it. The lyrics are deep and give an essence of darkness that again both compliment and contrast the music. This is a very well crafted song that I’m anxious to hear performed live.

Cut Us Down
The perfect closer. This is the culmination of the previous 26 minutes and 41 seconds. After the intro, the song starts out peppy and light musically, then becomes a dark brooder, but one that isn’t self-indulgent. The switch between verse and chorus is a brilliant musical transition that pulls you along effortlessly into what could be an entirely different song. The vocals on this track are strong, but it’s the arrangement of those vocals that make it stand out, working effortlessly amidst the instrumentation and lyrics to create a full, rich song.

With its faintly Weezer-esque pop sensibilities mixed with just a touch of jazz and a good portion of originality,
It’s A Process... is a strong release and one that deserves attention. I’m definitely going to be keeping tabs on Junior Revolution.

Junior Revolution will be playing The Basement on January 30 with Atlanta's Manchester Orchestra.

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