June Panic and his Silver Sound – Horror Vacui

With strong Dylan-esque/folk tendencies and a pepper of pre-1976 David Bowie, June Panic proves on Horror Vacui that you can write an almost exclusively acoustic-centered album (with touches of piano, farfisa, and strong percussion) and not come off as a Will Oldham or Elliot Smith wanna-be. (Er…Umm…June’s stablemates, Songs: Ohia, have a hard time, for example NOT sounding like the Palace Bros, but I digress.) Even more impressive is that June’s voice is an eclectic blend of Dylan/Bowie, yet it doesn’t come off at all like he is trying to sound like them. His voice is nasally like Dylan’s, but has the range and smoothness of Bowie.
Horror Vacui manages to take on “the meaning of life” question throughout the song-to-song journey without being cheesy. In fact, the album is thought-provoking. Each song fluctuates between poetic discussions about how life is meaningful or meaningless – with the emphasis, both musically and emotionally, being on the latter (and a hint about the possibilities of religious belief as a respite from this debate). Though the inside cover to the CD calls the conflict here “trancendental,” the introspective debate here leans more towards the existential. On a lighter note, the picture of June posing with statues of the great Greek thinkers on the inside cover may be a little much though. At least I giggled. But enough philosophical babble-shrabble.
First, the album cover has everything you’d want to know about who did what on the album – (thankfully! I wish more albums did this). Therefore, I can actually say that Vess Ruhtenberg and Jeb Banner did a wonderful job bringing out a natural sound. There are no outrageous effects or ridiculous sounding, over-the-top, noises, shrieks, guitar solos, wanking distortion pedals or anything unnatural. Production here is simply well done.
The Silver Sound (a host of rotating musicians) have good touch and show excellent musicianship. Most of all, no one here tries to take a front seat to anyone else. Everyone seems to be playing their role as a member of the collective sound. The Silver Sound includes two artists from the Smokeylung label (just down the road, apparently, from SC). Josh Seib (Satellite 66) and Finn Swingley (Finn) play various instruments on five of these songs (see my recent column on Smokeylung here at DOA). How do I know? The linear notes tell me so! I am not familiar with the rest of the cast of characters. But whoever they are, they do a fine job at accompanying June.
The album has some real masterpieces on it. “Don’t let them Fool You” is as beautiful and impactful as a song gets. “Glory Holes” follows with the same intensity, yet both songs have a “negative” lyrical vibe. “Reason to Know” includes eerie slide guitars, while “Two Sounds” provides a more up-tempo, shake and baker. The solid thread to all these songs are powerful and interesting chord progressions that allow June’s voice to wiggle and drag smoothly over them.
“To Be Right” has the most effective vocal and lyrical tone. It is a slow thumper with fantastic and moving lyrics: “You could cease to hit the mark/ and get tied to thinking dark.” It expresses all the pitfalls and bad influences on the way to becoming someone who believes in nothing.
Still, as good as all the songs above are, there are still a few lapses here and there where things fall flat or never quite get going. “Only Give Light to the Morning” is a good example of where June’s vocals just don’t have enough sway to give this plodding and routine song any life. There are a couple others where this happens, but all and all the gems on this album overshadow the very few duds: in other words-go get it! It is worth your time. In fact, if I ever give anything here a rating over 4.0, then, in my opinion, it is worth the time and money.