Crate-Digging: June of 44 – Anahata

I have a completely-filled 120 GB iPod classic, the record crate of the digital age, containing my entire music library. I’m listening to each release in alphabetical order by record title – kind of a virtual archaeological dig. These are my findings.

(Boa, 1999)

Death march, double time. A stuttering metronomic two-step opens Anahata, June of 44’s final album. Bass thuds and a trumpet wails, while somewhere in the mix a guitar shimmers. “Wear Two Eyes (Boom)” ka-thunks the ears with a jolt, and you’re immediately aware that you’re in June-of-44-land. It’s a good place to be for the musically precocious thinking man, and it’s familiar territory after four albums’ and an EP’s worth of stuttering math rock. And what makes this even better is that it’s Midwest/Louisville math rock, so you’re getting a little bit of everything: post rock, post punk, post hardcore – essentially everything with a “post” prefix, but those are all bad signifiers in the end. June of 44 creates postmodern rock and roll, skewing, mashing, and reinterpreting the vision of traditional rock for the art school crowd, stretching and manipulating traditional instruments, time signatures, and runtimes into weirder and more interesting excursions. Makes sense, given the pedigree: guitarist Jeff Mueller came from scene originators Rodan (think of post punk or post hardcore and Rodan should immediately come to mind), guitarist Sean Meadows from  Lungfish, bassist/trumpeter Fred Erskine from Hoover and The Crownhate Ruin, and drummer Doug Scharin from slowcore hall-of-famers Codeine and Rex.

Anahata is a bit more of a grown-up record, in a way, for the band. It’s different at any rate. Gone are the nautical themes that permeated their previous releases – see Engine Takes to the Water, Tropics and Meridians, Four Great Points, Anatomy of Sharks EP. Anahata, in fact (well, in a Wikipedia gloss), means, in Sanskrit, “unhurt, un-struck and unbeaten. Anahata Nad refers to the Vedic concept of unstruck sound, the sound of the celestial realm.” So, are June of 44 leaving the seas to look heavenward, hoping their resonations leave us listeners with the perception that we’re in some sort of otherworldly place? Possibly – all I really know is that there are no shouts of “Stern and starboard, port and bow!” to be found. The speak/shout vocals characterizing earlier recordings are pared back to a more melodic approach. It’s sort of a disappointment that the hinges remain mostly intact. But it’s not the end-all, and the band has a few stylistic tricks up its sleeve. Fred Erskine’s trumpet is a good one – its prominence lifts several songs with its foreboding jazz fluctuations, and you can hear the gestations of post-June of 44 and post-jazz band HiM (not to be confused, on pain of death, with His Infernal Majesty) in them. (Although Erskine doesn’t save album closer “Peel Away Velleity” – the song should really end at the 4:30 mark, but it goes on for another 11 minutes – a third of the album’s runtime is contained within the song.) Keyboards and vibraphones are featured throughout as well, and loops begin to appear as song building blocks. Violin and viola are used sparingly but effectively, and the backing female vocals on “Southeast of Boston” are a nice touch.

I'll eat what you're slingin', June of 44.

So in place of the nautical skree of previous releases, some tracks are downright pleasant. “Cardiac Atlas” is Modest Mouse-ical in a travelogue sort of way, complete with violin reminiscent of “Jesus Christ Was an Only Child.” The shout/speak returns in this song, and although the music, lyrics, and vocals really don’t sound much like Modest Mouse/Isaac Brock, the song is constructed in such a way that it could be a distant cousin of that band’s early output. “Five Bucks in My Pocket” is downright funky with its wah bass and its carefree lyrics: “I had a dream, I always have, / five dollars in my pocket, / endless packs of cigarettes and a lifetime pass, / for cross-town traffic.” And June of 44 may in fact be owed royalties for the frequency which indie rocker “Equators to Bi-Polar” got airplay in my house during college – one roommate had it on all his mixtapes. All of them. Every single one. So while this is certainly a decent album to listen to, I think I’d rather pull out Four Great Points or their final recorded document, In the Fishtank 6 to relive the seafaring glory days. But enjoy this one if you get the chance – it’s definitely worth the effort, and a fitting capstone to a highly interesting career.

RIYL: Slint, The Shipping News, Rodan, The 90 Day Men

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7 responses to “Crate-Digging: June of 44 – Anahata

  1. Interesting, endearing write-up! I’m glad you seem to have extensive knowledge of their back catalog; a lot of fans rail this album for not being heavy enough, or for containing more esoteric/optimistic lyrical themes, or the more punk-sang vocals instead of the shout/whisper of yore. I only had ‘FGP’ for a while, and was kind of obsessed with “Of Information and Belief” and “Shadow Puglist”, not really getting the idea of the other sounds. This past month, I’ve been going through their whole discography, and I think ‘Anahata’ is more stellar than what others have written online.

    The sound they were going for is a pretty consistent and focused one, and the funkiness and spacey guitar lines can’t be ignored. I, for one, do enjoy the 15-minute “Peel Away Valleity”, but only in full after the whole album 😉 It really ties together the ethereal quality and mood.

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  2. david, thanks for the great thoughts! have you heard the “in the fishtank” ep? i thought that was pretty great too, although it’s mostly instrumental.

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  3. Again, I wanted to thank you for being one of the few writers online (almost utterly) praising this album.

    I have listened to In The Fishtank over and over, and I really think it’s one of their best as well – I seem to most enjoy JO44 at their most fractured or funky… Here’s a brief write-up I did for the website Sputnikmusic:

    ‘The spaced-out, trippy twin of Anahata; on their In The Fishtank session, recorded only months after in Europe, June Of 44 craft some of their most enjoyable music, mixing their funk leanings, electronic loops, and guitar soundscapes together to create a colorful melting pot of ideas and moods. “Pregenerate” has ebbs and tides of drum rolls and feedback; “Generate” plays like a smoother “Escape Of The Levitational Trapeze Artist” off Anahata, with optimistic lyrics (the only lyrical song here, so, similarly, it plays out like the EP’s thesis); “Henry’s Revenge” is a soulful, bouncy guitar showcase; “Modern Hereditary Dance Steps” is a Neu!-like, stomping rocker, with wah-wah bass, poly-rhythmic drums, and shoegazing guitar chords; “Every Free Day a Good Day” is a drum-and-bass showcase while the guitar squeal with harmonics and high-end major chords; “Degenerate” floats back into the ocean the way “Pregenerate” rolled in. This, like Anahata, oftentimes gets derided, but, taken as the jam session recording it is to truly know where the minds of the band were at the time, it’s thoroughly enjoyable as Anahata’s after-dinner funk-noise mint…’

    A bit wordy as just a comment on your blog, but I have no one offline to talk to about JO44 =

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  4. very nice – it makes you wonder where they would have gone had they not split up. i wasn’t as enthralled by the shipping news (at least later shipping news) as i hoped to be (they were ok though, don’t get me wrong), it just wasn’t the same. but man, if jo44 had started REALLY incorporating electronics or expanding with jazz instrumentation, they could have released some insane records.

    wordy? on this site? never!

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  5. Yeah, I mean, it’s the same as loving Drive Like Jehu and just being ‘okay’ with Hot Snakes, if you catch my drift 😉 And you really make a good point, one that made me wonder why they broke up in the first place. Maybe they felt June of 44 grew as much as it could. Who knows – there’s so much good new music to be had, but with Polvo, Slint, and others doing shows in recent years, it wouldn’t be a gigantic surprise if JO44 regrouped as well.

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  6. heck yeah i catch it – drive like jehu is one of the best! (and hot snakes has just announced at least a live reformation.) i’d like to see rodan, actually – that would be awesome.

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