1. “Plastic Skateboard” – Brave Baby. It’s rare that a sound comes along that has its own internal logic and consistency. I could namecheck (Fleetwood Mac, Suburbs-era Arcade Fire, mopey mid-’00s electro, etc.), but ultimately their indie rock sound stands on its own. Impressive.
2. “Scar” – The Lonely Wild. Setting up a distinct feeling an inhabiting it is a sure way to hook me, and this rock tune gives us the sound and shape of desperation.
3. “Modern Times” – VSTRS. A killer drummer will always stand out, no matter where he or she lands: this minor-key rock track gets its propulsive energy from the frantic drumming. With the vocals, synths, and loping bass pulling the opposite direction, the drums still push this track onward relentlessly. The tension creates a great tune.
4. “Dear California” – Water District. It’s been almost twenty years since Bush and Incubus were cool (!!), so it’s time for their close-up. This chilled-out track calls up the best of those polished alt-rock slackers.
5. “Young Burns” – Fine, It’s Pink. Like a cave of wonders, this tune starts off with an icy, sparse electro intro before unveiling rooms of soaring, impressive indie-rock sound.
6. “Dirty Deli” – Creature from Dell Pond. An alternate vision of post-punk: jazz-inspired rhythms, dissonant chords, speak-sing vocals, occasional dance-rock dalliances, and a careful use of space. This tune scrambles along to its own idiosyncratic vision.
7. “Going Home” – Stomatopod. It’s a great-sounding old-school punk song. What else do you need?
Most ’90s radio rock was just really loud and distorted pop songs. Somebody probably would have noticed eventually that Boston’s “More than a Feeling” and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” were pretty similar, but Nirvana self-disclosed this by at least once singing Boston’s words and melody over their song.
And while some a lot of ’90s bands took rock way too seriously, some simply wrote great songs; the ones that figured out rock was pretty much loud pop were among the best at this (Blur, Oasis, Nirvana, sometimes Bush) and the absolute worst (Candlebox, Creed, sometimes Bush). Live, on the other hand, took rock very seriously, and they made awesome music too. This isn’t an exclusivity clause.
Still, really loud pop songs make Junebug Spade‘s Extra Virgin Olive Oil my favorite straight-up rock’n’roll release of the year. It takes a lot to get me psyched about ’90s-inspired rock, but a good starting point is a killer melody, and JS has those in spades. Both the guitars and the vocals layer on the catchy, and the results are dynamite. When both of those elements come together on “Slow Your Roll,” it’s clear that Junebug Spade understands this: guys wanna rock, girls wanna shimmy, and everyone wants to sing along, either at the show or in their car. They provide the goods for all of that. This band makes everyone happy. That, my friends, is admirable.
The basic elements of this band are nothing new: a songwriter/guitarist/vocalist, guitarist, bassist and drummer. Bassist Kyle Mayfield is high in the mix, which is a standard ’90s move that provides a nice counterpoint to the melodies. The drummer wails away. The guitars go after it in the aforementioned awesome way. Vocalist Peter Seay caps off the sound with a slacker-tastic vocal delivery that makes it sound like he’s totally not even working that hard to deliver these songs. It’s not the sterilized/rote vocal performances that sometimes took over radio rock; there’s a non-southern drawl to his vocal, and it fits perfectly over the tunes.
All five tunes are money, but “Public Display of Affection” takes a perky, Strokes-ian riff and totally morphs it with a mega chorus. “Slow Your Roll” employs an awesome tempo change and a wicked slide guitar riff (!) to close out the EP. “Aborigine” has Blur all over the guitar line, and I love it, because Seay’s voice is nothing like Albarn’s, so it sounds like an homage and not a rip-off.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil is entertaining all the way through. For a guy who doesn’t cover hardly any straight-up rock anymore, this is a pretty dramatic statement. Fans of rock shouldn’t sleep on Junebug Spade.
There is nothing wrong with the genre of modern rock. When done correctly, it can be just as powerful as your best indie-rock songs or indie-pop tunes. It’s just that there aren’t very many bands like Chevelle, Bush, Glori-H and (okay, I’m prepared to take some flack for this) Linkin Park. There are, however, plenty of sucky bands like Three Days Grace, Nickelback, Staind, Puddle of Mudd, and the like. It’s a true statement that modern rock has a disproportionately amount of sucky artists in its ranks. I don’t know why this is, exactly. But just because there are lots of sucky ones doesn’t stop me from being able to laud a good one when it appears.
And When Summers Gone is a good modern rock band, despite the horribly punctuated name (I have to stop myself from putting a [sic] after every use). Their debut album December features catchy riffs, a solid rhythm section, intense vocals that fit well without sounding forced (mostly), and a general mood that makes it feel real and honest instead of overproduced and bloated.
“Ocean Boulevard” is the standout here, with a charging guitar line accented by syncopated drumming and snarling yet melodic vocals. Every part meshes together, and the song feels like a whole. It doesn’t feel forced or contrived, but like the natural outflow of the band. In the same way that Anathallo sits down and indie-pop glory comes out, When Summers Gone sits down and modern rock comes out. It’s almost definitely not that simple, but the finished product makes it feel that way. And that’s good news for the listener (which is good news for the band).
“Embers” is another hard-charging tune that only misses being the highlight by having a slightly out-of-control vocal line throughout. If the vocals weren’t so passionate as to miss bits here and there (this is, after all, an indie release), the song would easily top “Ocean Boulevard,” as the start/stop, loud/quiet songwriting is the tightest on the album. The band plays with emotions effectively on “Embers,” and that’s a good sign.
If When Summers Gone can hang together and make some more songs, I see good things for them. Their songs are tight and their sound is cohesive. They can write and make it feel natural, which makes me want to listen to their music over others in the genre who just feel contrived as a marketing ploy. They do have issues with vocals in places, but that’s stuff they can smooth out. December is worth picking up if you’re a fan of Bush, Chevelle, or modern rock in general.
Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.