Monday, April 13, 2009

Juno. A Future Lived in the Past Tense (DeSoto, 2001)

"You said everything like it was an afterthought/ You should have used it more wisely, that soul you bought."

Purveyors of densely layered, rhythmically complex math rock, Seattle's chronically overlooked Juno were a brilliant case of cross-country indie networking, Pacific Northwesterners signed to the DC-centric DeSoto label founded by Jawbox's Bill Bardot and Kim Coletta. Though based a continent away from the Nation's Capital, Juno were cut from the same brainy, fitted postpunk cloth as other DeSoto acts like Faraquet, the Dismemberment Plan (with whom Juno released an excellent split EP in 2000), and Burning Airlines, churning out grandiose slabs of well-planned, meticulously constructed indie noise, brows furrowed and amps cranked.

Juno coalesced in 1995, putting out some singles on Sub Pop and Jade Tree before releasing their debut full length This Is the Way It Goes and Goes on DeSoto in 1999. In 2000, they put out the aforementioned split EP with the Dismemberment Plan, followed by second full length A Future Lived in the Past Tense in 2001. Sadly, the latter would be the band's final release, and today the band is officially defunct (though they did play a reunion set in late 2006 for a KEXP benefit).

The key to Juno's sound was its triple guitar attack. Axemen Arlie Carstens (who also handled vocals), Gabe Carter (also keyboards), and Jason Guyer combined to form an awesomely interlocking sonic wall, with multiple melodic and harmonic lines interweaving to create a shimmering, shifting tapestry, hooks echoing off hooks and riffs rebounding off riffs. Behind it all labored Herculean drummer Greg Ferguson, keeping the ship on course and giving shape to the chaos with impeccable timing and a commanding technique. Bass-wise, Juno depended on a rotating cast of hired hands, including Death Cab for Cutie's Nick Harmer and Sunny Day Real Estate/Foo Fighter Nate Mendel, both of whom worked to guide the melodic center on the low end.

Though both of Juno's two LPs are superior examples of top-shelf postpunk, their swansong is the group's masterpiece, and a hell of a note to go out on. An ambitious and far-reaching collection of towering master class anthems and brainy bombast, A Future Lived in the Past Tense gets complicated quick and stays that way for the duration of its 70 minutes, relentlessly battering the listener with wave after wave of six string turbulence.

Instrumental opener "A Thousand Motors Pressed Upon the Heart" instructs, "Enter the secret code," before a tight organ motif ushers in darkly chiming guitars, heavy reverb and endless sustain washing through the speakers in thick pulses. The drums pound out a knotty beat as the bass earns its keep with nicely propulsive runs. "Covered With Hair" is classic Juno, triumphant and wounded, brash and enthusiastically vulnerable. Moving from windmilling power chords to quick-footed push, the band successfully charts a path between punk and prog. "All the hip kids wail in the cold/ Bluffing to dying sounds of indie rock's dying soul," Carstens bitterly observes, as the guitars mercilessly slash and jab. "Put on your punk belt and rock it for all the square cools."

"When I Was In" starts off with delicate plucks and strums before exploding into bruised rage. "No one ever gets it right!" wails Carstens, the frustration palpable in every nimble snare punch and gnarled note. Slow burner "The French Letter" seethes and smolders, beautiful in its malice and ill intent, while the meditative, wordless "Up Through the Night" plays like a melancholy lullaby. Back in full-on guitar abuse form, Juno deliver "You Are The Beautiful Conductor of This Orchestra" with full throated abandon, swinging for the fences with each twisted and thorny note.

A Future Lived in the Past Tense is at once unsettling and exceedingly satisfying, trading on future shock and millennial anxiety, filtering bad vibes and foreboding through joyous riffs and stadium drums. It's the sound of a band hitting their stride, finding their voice, and maybe realizing that this is the end of the road. An album of discovery and loss, glad tidings and troubling realizations. Epic comes close.