The Junior Varsity - Wide Eyed
Record label: Victory
Realease Date: July 12, 2005
Ok, so let me start out my first review by saying I've got NOTHING against Drew Beringer. He's a very insightful reviewer and has a lot of well-deserved cred on this site. However, one of the very few things I disagreed with him during his review of The Junior Varsity's latest album, Cinematographic (AMAZING record) was when he kind of put down its predecessor, Wide Eyed. Everyone's entitled to their opinion but I, personally, felt that was just as good, if not BETTER than Cinematographic. I noticed there were no reviews for this excellent album to be found on this site so I decided to give you my opinion on the record as my first review. Please don't trash me on my first review. So with that... here we go:
Victory record is a very strange label to me because they've basically been both a blessing and a curse for music. The blessing is that they've given a lot of good yet sadly underrated bands a home and a way to get their name out there (Bayside, Bury Your Dead, The Forecast, etc.). The curse... putting these bands in the background to market meaningless fads like Hawthorne Heights (remember, we're talking earlier 2000's here, but they still do this time and time again to this day) and cookie cutter metal bands (Scars of Tomorrow, Darkest Hour, yadda yadda yadda). Another victim of said shelving was The Junior Varsity, a unique, alt-prog-rock (kind of hard to classify) band from Illinois. Their debut release, "The Great Compromise," was from some other label but this, released in 2005, is their Victory debut and considered to be their breakthrough record to some. Unfortunately, it was widely overlooked when their sound could have really caught on.
The opener to the album, "Get Comfortable," is an ambiently-tinged rocker about yearning to break away from everyday life. Immediately, we get a taste of what this band is all about: loud drums, quirky synth thrown in (just enough to keep us MCS lovers happy), earnest lyrics, and singer/bassist, Asa Dawson's, vocals soaring over big but busy guitar lines. While the music seems positive, lyrics like, "I feel right at home in my town, happy day...feels strange to know that everyone waves by habit," give you the sense that maybe there's something darker underneath. This is a recurring theme on the album. Following that song is the more fast paced "Everyone's Got Something They're Running Out Of," a spastic little number about the troubles of growing up.
The guitarists' complex work on the strings seem to somehow recall bands like Circa Survive and Minus the Bear with the math rock-like tapping, harmonics, and overall ethereal sound. (They even give me a tough time learning it). Musically, they proved they got chops with this record as the drummer, Chris Birch and said guitar noodlers seem like they are constantly trying to outdo each other which I think makes it more fun to listen to. Gems like "Mad for Medusa," "I'm Home, Hooray!," and "When We Meet Aliens..." show off the bands attempt to create a melodically and technically unique album. The inner looking (sometimes abstract) lyrics by Dawson, at points of the album, have a hard time getting across as being about something in particular. Someone could take all these lyrics as being about a person slowly losing their sanity as the album progresses. (They could just play out that way.) However, a lot of lyrics seem to lean towards something personal (growing up, failed relationships with parents, etc.). Overall though, however you take them, it's good to know Dawson leaves them open to interpretation so we can all get something out of it.
To me, the ONLY track I could live without is the slower paced, third to last song, "If It Hurts You." But even it has its place on the album because it sets up for the moment when the band are TRULY outstanding. I'm talking about the pre-closer "What it Meant to Be Clean," a beautiful yet, strong power ballad about a person feeling nostalgic for a better time in their life. It reaches a stunning, heart-gripping climax when it reaches the final chorus ("I thought I could keep it better together, forever in debt to each other"). Honestly, it moved me more than any band has in a long time. And it sets the stage for the epic, sweeping closer that is "Saltwater Fountain" that leaves you breathless when it finally comes to an end with an E chord and a drum solo.
It's unfortunate that this band met their demise after Cinematographic because I, along with countless other TJV fans, felt that they had something a lot of bands didn't (and still don't) have: originality. There won't be another like these guys anytime soon. It's clear to me that The Junior Varsity is a band that everybody either loves or hates. True fans are glad we got to experience them even though Victory never really gave them a chance until close to the end of their careers. All in all, their downfall was a terrible loss to those who appreciated them for their diverse music, not their label. Thank you for growing up with me throughout my high school years and creating a soundtrack to my youth, TJV. (Again, no disrespect Drew. ha)
Hey -- first post here. Long time reader, first time writer. Makes sense that it would be on a "Wide Eyed" review, considering it's one of my favorite albums by one of my favorite bands.
I always thought this band, and this album, got a bad rep. They got lumped into all the other generic stuff Victory Records was putting out around the time this band and album really came into its own. Don't think that was fair to them.
Many people criticize Asa Dawson for his abstract lyrics, but to me, that's the best part of the band. Every person has their own definition for what he's trying to say. Heck, I've extrapolated multiple meanings from each song to fit whatever it is that's on my mind that day. And that's the beauty of it. There is no definition, it's truly all your own.
The beginning to "Get Comfortable" kind of defines this whole album to me. The wavy, spacy sound to begin the song always created an image of looking into the sky and just wondering and thinking about everything to me. I love the big hooks, I'm a sucker, I admit it. Also, the drum to begin "When We Meet Aliens..." always gets me... it always sounded very garage, very realistic to me.
I've always felt that I tie music to memories and time periods of my life. When I first listened to this album, it was one of the most important parts of my life so far so maybe my fascination and love for this record was because of that. Whatever it is, this one will always be near and dear to my heart. I believe everyone should at least give this album a chance before blindly throwing it in the overflowing trashcan labeled "Victory Records".
And a TJV reunion possibly in the works? That is excellent. I wasn't too big on Cinematographic, but did appreciate a few of the tracks off of the album (the ones that reminded me of Wide Eyed ), so hopefully they can smooth out the differences that separated them in the first place and get back to making music that we love.