The nineties would have sounded much different if My Bloody Valentine were given their proper comeuppance in 1991. If teenagers started putting Kevin Shields posters up in their room, sitting stoned and alone in their parent’s basements piling layers and layers of manipulated guitar noise on top of each other until they seeped up through the floor boards of post-WWII tract homes, mom and dad’s ears to the ground listening for a discernible melody or unmuted note. The nineties would have sounded a lot like Junior Low.
In fact, to say the nineties didn’t sound a lot like Junior Low is a mistake. MBV had its place, and their chest-crushing din had its influence on at least one ragtag group of miscreants out of Amherst, MA. That group is Dinosaur Jr. And Dinosaur Jr. is why Junior Low exists. In fact, Junior Low is a clever anagram for Dinosaur Jr. Think about it…Junior, from the abbreviated Jr., and Low from bassist Lou BarLOW. Get it? It is a tongue-in-cheek reference, a little inside joke by a music nerd for a music nerd. It is fitting that Junior Low takes its musical direction from two very insular projects. Kevin Shields WAS My Bloody Valentine and Dinosaur Jr (arguably) WAS J. Mascis. Luckily, Junior Low’s main man Justin Schweitzer (guitarist for one time Denverites Weed Diamond) side-steps all bandmate infighting by writing, recording and producing this record all by his lonesome. Bands work a lot better when you don’t have to fire anybody.
The fittingly titled Heavy follows pretty faithfully this MBV/Dinosaur Jr. split down the middle. The album starts with an absolutely cavernous, jet-engine suck of maximalist guitar drones, buried melodies, soaring guitar solos covered under about six-feet of audio mud. Everything is just…on. All the time. It is the extent of the album piled on top of itself in a swirling nimbus cloud of noise. It is breathless and insane. Soon, all the sounds drop out into a sustained guitar tone that is gathered, shortened, held close to the chest and then unleashed into one of the first of many incredible feedback-drenched melodies throughout the album. “Dirge” makes its Dinosaur Jr. influence felt palpably through Schweitzer’s omnipresent layered guitars pranging into each other and his aching and arching (archangeling) guitar solos. The soloing on “Dirge” and the chorus on “Kimberly” are some of the most thrilling moments I have experienced this year.
Coming in on the heavier divide of shoegaze, closing tracks “III” and “Sunburn” are especially pummeling. “III” has a surprisingly slow tempo and chugging chords of a sludge-metal burner, a sustained, feedback squall keeps its thumb over much of the eight-minute long dirge taking years off of hearing and emotionally exhausting the listener. “Sunburn” works almost exclusively with harsh tones before dropping out into meditative strums with Schweitzer’s submerged vocals sending the album off to a slowly disintegrating conclusion. Sometimes a downstroke can mean so much.
Heavy is one of the near-perfect albums of 2010. The fact that it doesn’t stray far from its source material makes for not only great nostalgia trips but for the recollection of a time when the term “shoegaze” wasn’t so defined. It could be as airy as MBV but as sludgy and defeated as Dinosaur Jr.
Junior Low: Thank you.