(State Capital, CD)
Burlington’s Steven Hazen Williams returns with the second full-length release from his cleverly dubbed outfit, My First Days on Junk. Aided by a cadre of talented friends —notably, Colin Clary and fellow former Magog Jason Routhier, among many others — his penchant for atmospheric pop remains strong. No Order is further evidence of the evolution of William’s approach to song craft. And a kinetic and subtle sound is the result.
“It’s About Us Breaking” is the record’s checked introductory track. Complete with a gracious helping of static and Clary’s familiar winsome flair — the multi-tasking Smitten shoulders lead vocal duties on roughly half of the album — it is a ruse for listeners, shrewdly constructing a guise of sonic fragility that the following track “Try Hard” destroys with an exciting severity. While the album’s textures are particularly luxuriant on “Try Hard,” the sonic tapestry of No Order doesn’t end there.
For better or worse, often reverberated, doubled vocal tracks tend to rise above the tumult of the accompanying instrumentation. The approach is iffy on tracks such as “Heavy Winter, Heavy Snow” and “Count Me In, I’m Good to Go,” which perilously tread the line between carefully constructed mix and whirring bedlam. Williams creates much more unity on the record’s less ambitious, mellower tracks, such as “Old Jaguar” and “Life of the Party,” in which the band sounds more like they’re in the same room.
“Old Jaguar” is a lanky, chiming ballad. A consonance of stripped-down guitar, it is one of No Order’s highlights, despite its departure from the record’s early attempt at sonic boom. The ballad “Little Distraction,” a cover of Melbourne’s venerable indie-pop vets The Lucksmiths, is a nice but distracting tribute. It detracts somewhat from the momentum of the record.
A tediously long fade-in pays off in “Waiting for a Ride Tonite,” which offers up a stellar mix of live and synthesized drums. Together with able bass accompaniment, solitary acoustic guitar and Clary’s trademark woo, it is an apt showcase for the band’s imaginative capability.
My First Days on Junk are at their best in their bolder moments, evoked in this release but never fully realized. Given the forays into balladry throughout, it’s almost as if Williams and Co. can’t help themselves. While the early punch of “Try Hard” is never again achieved, Williams’ confident ensemble builds on an already stout foundation and may still make junkies of us all.
This review has been corrected.