Ape School’s Junior Violence can’t decide what album it’s going to be. It takes on several different genres during its eleven tracks. At first, it’s a bit Apple-ad hipster - the deeply ironic sense of jubilance on opener “A New Low! It Sucks Itself!” would fit well next to The Envy Corps and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah on a Fuck Yeah, Denim! playlist - but then grows into this gorgeous sort of acid-beach record - what Surfer Blood might have made with a bit more adventurousness and lot more pot. Also, it’s briefly as unabashedly direct as an old Wilco b-side before things start getting distinctly darker, and then it’s bright once more for a last hurrah. Junior Violence sounds like it could hang with different, albeit pretty elite peers at various times, and for good reason. It is this way because mastermind Michael Johnson knows what he wants it to be.
With about decade of music making, a rotating door of collaborators, and a list of influences that covers everything from Prefab Sprout to Van Halen to Scott Walker, it seems Johnson’s project has resulted in a band less dedicated towards a singular artistic vision so much as they’re dedicated to the integrity of their songs. When Junior Violence switches up on a dime, it admittedly jars momentum, but in the act, Ape School chooses to not be pigeonholed, and a vision begins to form a picture of a band that would not have their songs any other way. It’s easy to imagine how another act might have just clothed everything in warm reverb to make the album feel more continuous, but with the way these songs are, such a choice would’ve been superfluous and distracting. It’s enough that a track like “Ready For Duty” owns what it’s doing - a decidedly open folk-twang - that it needs not sonically connect to the drug haze of its preceding front-side.
Johnson consistently evokes a sense of weight, lending it to foggy fuzz, synth-phase Bowie homage, and British-schoolboy sneer-punk alike. This means that Junior Violence, even if it calls up a variety of references, never feels like a compilation of several bands. It is by Ape School, a band whose deep love of music and the ability to evoke unease, tension, and heart ties the whole smorgasbord together. You can purchase Junior Violence via Hometapes Records. - Adam Downer
For those who decide whether to come or go based on the first forty seconds of an album, Restorations’ LP2 is practically tailor-made for snap judgments. After a chiming, anthemic guitar opening, the band already known for fist-raising jams lets all hell break loose with “D,” their most unrestrained opener yet. The drum kit-mauling, earth-shaking bass lines and ascendant guitar riffs can only be described as complete sensory overload, and make it clear that the following eleven songs are going to be fueled by pure viscera. If your preferences run towards structure over huge sound, this release may leave you cold; LP2’s predominant means of exploring the band’s wealth of ideas are stadium-sized instrumentation and endless waves of atmospherics, as well as a dose of ennui.
This is a murkier, more inward-looking Restorations than we’re used to. Everything that was there before, musically, is blown sky-high this time around. They’ve managed to pack ideas into every iota of the song list, aided by Jon Low’s miles-deep production; the density of the music itself is offset by an album-long meditation on place, belonging, and the ramifications of leaving the familiar behind, which makes the outsized sound that much more of an interesting direction. Juxtaposing the existential discomfort with more sophisticated, complex forays into Restorations’ sonic wheelhouse.
The spiraling guitars, one of the album’s specially prominent features, are everywhere, serving various purposes in each song. “Kind of Comfort”’s jittery glam rock aspirations accompany lyrics of searching and wanderlust. Even the more downbeat cuts (“In Perpetuity Through The Universe,” “New Old”) are propelled beyond their subject matter by the songs’ barely-concealed restless energy. At its more pensive moments, like the folk-inflected “Civil Inattention,” there is a restless undercurrent of texture and volatility that never quite lets up.
Album closer “Adventure Tortoise” is all monster buildup laced with extraterrestrial effects, kicking off into a sort of requiem for the band’s neighborhood. “I’d really like to stay to help this place,” growls Jon Loudon through his teeth, but the allure of letting it all go is too strong to resist. The longing for a place “where nobody knows your name” isn’t quite all-consuming enough to inspire real action, but it is definitely the new paradigm Loudon means.
It takes guts to pull off a release that feels ten minutes long but contains more emotional and musical texture than most records. Restorations cover a whole lot of ground on LP2, and for the most part, pull off their ambitions. A bit too sanguine for shoegaze, and maybe too heady for punk, Restorations’ second full-length album brings an intriguing palette of aspirations to their open road-ready sound, prepared to try anything and everything. - Alyssa Greenberg