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.
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.
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