Juno existed in this vortex, a sweet spot at the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first, at a time where Pacific NW indie and Midwest post punk had some breakthrough moments, the sounds of each coalescing around the huge guitars of the former and the taut angularity and experimentalism of the latter to birth hybrid sounds that were both adventurous and universally pleasing. The band – sporting three guitarists as well as a rotating cast of bassists including Nate Mendel of Foo Fighters/Sunny Day Real Estate and Nick Harmer of Death Cab for Cutie – represented the best of both worlds, combining aesthetics from Sub Pop to Flameshovel, Up to Jade Tree, Suicide Squeeze to DeSoto. (Of course they wound up on the latter.) Perhaps it was the wider adaptation of the internet during Juno’s active period that truly allowed the cross-country/continent hybridization of musical ideas; regardless, it’s for the best. The band’s time was short, as they released only two albums and a handful of tracks on various extended play formats, but, to paraphrase our favorite futuristic Sling Blade-ian janitor, the candle that burns half as long burns twice as bright (itself a paraphrase, but screw it, I love Scruffy). I’m hoping there’s a fanbase out there that hasn’t forgotten them – they deserve tribute, and they’ll get it here.
One of the most immediate and obvious (and overly chronicled, IMO, but here it is nonetheless) characteristics of Juno’s sound is that frontman Arlie John Carstens vocally falls squarely into Bob Mould territory, his baritone a vicious growl even when he’s not singing forcefully. As such it’s hard not to imagine Carstens spinning Mould’s repertoire during his formative years, culminating, possibly, in the discovery of Sugar’s thick masterpiece Copper Blue, a record to which A Future Lived in Past Tense is clearly indebted. This is not a bad thing. And it is not something that Juno relies on, any sort of hero worship or anything, or an adherence to one specific sound. Sure, the tags on this column will read “indie rock,” “alternative,” “post punk,” and “emo,” but the combination of those wildly outdated and unhelpful adjectival styles yields an intense potential, one that Juno achieves quite admirably. Did I mention three guitarists? If you can get away with it, why wouldn’t you build massive, monolithic slabs of Guitar Rock, each musician’s participation coiling and writhing in heavenly unison? It’s not difficult to visualize Arthur C. Clarke’s solid black obsidian-esque alien structures as full-fledged Juno songs in your mind as the record unfolds – perhaps they were placed on earth 3 million years ago and allowed man to evolve from ape, or buried on the moon, or erected on the Saturnian moon Iapetus. The record is called A Future Lived in Past Tense after all – who knows if the men from Juno aren’t really representatives of a future version of humanity, freed from the constraints of linear time?
What’s the best way to start a guitar record? With found sound and organ, of course. Duh! Don’t worry, it gets all guitar-y soon enough, but to not touch on “A Thousand Motors Pressed Upon the Heart” would be an injustice. A computerized voice intones, “Enter the secret code,” whereupon an 8-note organ line begins to play, as if that’s the secret code. Genius! (There might be more to this space and science stuff after all.) The rest of the band presently enters, riding the groove and subtly enhancing the song throughout its runtime. This is the kind of thing a good band can tap into and exploit in a live setting, as “A Thousand Motors” would work just as well as a show opener as it does opening the album. There’s so much room here for improvisation and enhancement, and yet it’s perfect as it is.
And the album as a whole is less about individual songs representing the whole than the whole as it stands, as moods shift from tense to wary and back to tense in almost a tidal progression. And while that doesn’t really sound like a varied tonal palette, that’s OK – texture and nuance are the name of the game, and who doesn’t love a little build and release? Even though “Covered With Hair” proves that three guitars at full throttle is truly an impressive spectacle (and also that Cerberus must have downloaded some guitar tablature to practice as he guarded the underworld), three guitars densely woven and paired with dynamic intervals, as on “When I Was in ________,” and placed back to back works even better, providing perhaps the most impassioned performance on the record. And that’s saying something.
It’s not all bombast and bluster though – I make quite a lot of those three guitars, but their restraint is just as impressive as their action. In fact, Juno can be downright beautiful if given the space – take the guitar melody resolving itself in the spaces between the moody “The Trail of Your Blood in the Snow,” or the descending progression adorning “We Slept in Rented Rooms,” each so pleasing to the ear that you’ll be surprised you haven’t subconsciously thought of them first. “Up Through the Night” is a single-guitar meditation á la Rodan’s “Bible Silver Corner,” and serves to break up a trio of lengthy songs mid-album, of which “We Slept in Rented Rooms” is a part. “The French Letter” is a master class in tense buildup, stretching over ten minutes and packing in every trick in Juno’s bag, from guitar sirens to explosive vocals, and a tempo shift near the end that careens it headlong into punk territory. However, “Things Gone and Things Still Here” is a massive eight-minute turd in the middle of the album, a stillborn, spoken-word snoozer that should be skipped at all costs. I’m not even going to dwell on it more than this – the rest of the album’s too good for the negatives.
It’s a shame that Juno isn’t still around to build upon this, but I really wonder if attempts to expand upon this record would even be wise. What did you expect them to do next, experiment with electronics? Strip down to a leaner sound? Go goth? No thanks. A Future Lived in Past Tense works perfectly as the band’s swan song, a supernova of catharsis. Bands have done this before, and they will do it again – the guitar is the guitar, after all – but the craft and execution on display here is appropriate as the final exclamation point. Maybe the band realized that, I don’t know. Maybe they just got sick of cycling through rhythm sections.
RIYL: Sugar, Jawbox, …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead, Rodan, Sunny Day Real Estate
“A THOUSAND MOTORS PRESSED UPON THE HEART (live)” [with vocals?!?]
“HELP IS ON THE WAY (live)”