June of '44
When the book on '90s rock is finally written, a handful of names are going to come up over and over as the inspiration for all sorts of sensitive, SG-wielding members of Chain Wallet America: Slint, Bikini Kill, Nation of Ulysses, Jesus Lizard, Rodan, Fugazi, Hoover, Drive Like Jehu, Unwound. These are the extraordinary bands (however aurally dissimilar) that inspired youth too hip for Nirvana but not for big hooks, those who would never use the word "grunge" in conversation but adored a good riff all the same. They were the sound of young underground America: usually white, but not always; usually middle-class, but not always; as much female as male; sometimes tattooed; often geeky. Independent of Mr. Cobain's efforts, (or, hell, maybe because of them) 1991 through 1994 was an amazing 48 months to be in love with the sound of guitars.
Rodan and Hoover were the most blatantly victimized of these bands by far, and more derivative and uninteresting contemporary punk is directly attributable to their albums Rusty (QuarterStick/ Touch and Go) and The Lurid Transversal of Route 7 (Dischord) than to anything else. Even though the band was short-lived, Hoover's heroically thick chords and basement screams can be found etched on the eardrums of late-century punks across the country. Those same kids found Rodan's brand of majestic loud-quiet Crimson-thunder much easier (and probably more fun) to play than Slint's. Rodan and Hoover were great bands, but they spawned an almost unbelievable amount of lousy rock.
So it seemed like something of a historical inevitability when guitarist Jeff Mueller (ex-Rodan) and guitarist-trumpeter Fred Erskine (ex-Hoover) found themselves in a band together by 1995. Calling themselves June of '44 after the letters Henry Miller wrote to his wife, they joined with an outstanding drummer named Doug Scharin (ex-Codeine) and Sean Meadows (ex-Lungfish). They are their era's Blind Faith, a band with a heritage so weighty there was no possible way they could be more than the sum of their parts. And for the most part, they aren't. To their lasting credit, they resisted the urge to simply rehash their past, trading in a youthful urgency and raw energy for more studied, thoughtful composition and structure. In a world of Hoover/Rodan tribute bands, June of '44 ignored the easy road. But while all of June's albums are deftly played and occasionally rewarding, their more relaxed, streamlined vibe can be, well, mighty dull. Even the more experimental passages, which usually mean more spacious, dubbier structures and seemingly random trumpet insertions, are poor substitute for an honest roar.
The group's most recent collection, Anahata (QuarterStick/Touch and Go), accentuates both their strengths and weaknesses. Anahata integrates keyboards, strings, and vibes into songs both choppier and more measured than previous efforts. The playing is uniformly excellent (Scharin is one of rock's most underrated drummers) but not in the service of any particularly dynamic ideas. Yet the the band's forthcoming self-titled EP shows that there's still a great rock band somewhere in June. The EP will be released in October by Konkurrent, a Dutch label that invites touring bands to lay down a quick set of songs in their studio, not unlike BBC DJ John Peel's sessions. In that setting, June delivers a disc as good as or better than any record they've ever released, the sound of quickly composed rock songs laid down under pressure. "Modern Hereditary Dance" and "Every Free Day Is a Good Day" bring the noise with an energy their studio albums need desperately. Of course, a career full of dynamic innovation is a lot to ask of any musicians, and the guys in June of '44 have certainly done their share. Hopefully, the Konkurrent sessions are a sign that June has finally gotten the balance right.
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