Juno – A Future Lived in Past Tense

Juno
A Future Lived in Past Tense

There’s often a complaint that jaded music critics can ruin decent music, a statement I’m not necessarily opposed to. It’s somewhat disheartening to listen to some post-collegiate 20-something shred six ways from Sunday for something unnecessarily elitist like boring chord changes. But on the other hand, I must defend, to an extent, my peers. After all, for every jaded critic, there are at least 10 jaded bands. Bands that are just as esoteric and anal-retentive as the art-school dorks who sing their praises. Not that these bands are necessarily bad (my personal favorites, Radiohead, are perhaps the biggest offenders), but it can occasionally detract from the level of enjoyment one derives from the band. Which is why it’s so refreshing and invigorating to come along a band devoid of such detached tendencies. Juno are just such a band.
Aside from some damningly pretentious song titles (check out “Things Gone and Things Still Here [We’ll Need the Machine Guns by Next March]” or “You are the Beautiful Conductor of this Orchestra”) Juno seem anything BUT jaded. One can’t help but get the impression that this band exists for the music. This, of course, was all apparent on 1999’s excellent This is the Way it Goes and Goes and Goes…, the debut LP from a band that fought through apathetic record labels and singer/guitarist Arlie John Carstens almost permanently debilitating neck injury. Fortunately, A Future Lived in Past Tense not only provides an exhilarating listen, it sharpens the band’s focus and ups its predecessor in almost every way.
A jaunty keyboard line opens “A Thousand Motors Pressed Upon the Heart” (and the album). The bass guitar echoes the keyboard, and a torrent of ambient, ethereal guitars gel with the percussion for a four-minute instrumental that serves as a perfect opening for the album. The song segways into the rushing, full-throttle blast of “Covered with Hair,” a structure-less song that barrels through five-minutes of Carstens’s distinctive wail and the band’s trademark guitar froth. “When I was in __” is one of the band’s best songs to date, properly incorporating the whirlwind dynamics they’ve honed to a fine point. Opening with glowing feedback and a tender, if dissonant, melody, the band launches into atmospherics, as Carstens, sounding for all the world like Bob Mould, whispers his excellent lyrics. As the band crashes into a distorted rush a minute and a half in, Carstens’s voice shines. A soft, quiet and rough tone during the slower parts, Carstens levels off into a soaring, confident, golden tenor when the band turns it up. The song started with a whisper: “you treat everything like an afterthought.” At the end of the song the guitars rush behind Carstens like three waterfalls and he finally pinpoints his frustration: “this can’t be an afterthought/this right here is all I want.” Both violent and heart-wrenching, it’s a testament to how amazing this band can be.
The band spends the rest of the album walking a line between extended, moody songs and abrasive punk blasts that somehow still break the five minute mark (for all their ambition, Juno know little restraint: the album clocks in at over 70 minutes). “You are the Beautiful Conductor of this Orchestra” and “Help is On the Way” are both formless blasts of pure energy and passion, the guitars alternately sounding like Fugazi and My Bloody Valentine. “The Trail of Your Blood in the Snow” is a tender ballad until the last 10 seconds, where the guitars sound like clanging swords. “The French Letter” practices seven minutes of uncompromised restraint, controlled feedback and speculation (Carstens frequently repeats the phrase “Who was it you said you were? And what was it you were sent here for?”) before exploding into three minutes of gorgeous, beautiful guitar weaving and Carstens breaking free from the whisper that hid his emotion during the majority of the song. The stunning nine and a half minute epic “We Slept in Rented Rooms [the Old School Bush]” is one of the best pieces the band has ever done: one can almost discern a chorus and a melody, though lush guitars and stumbling percussion bury it in the din. “Killing it in a Quiet Way” ends the album perfectly, once again showcasing the band’s dynamic. Carstens’s final statement, “just say something to fracture the silence” sounds not like a coda, but as a sentence interrupted, and the band bursts into a bomb of relentless percussion and a three guitar attack that will leave you stunned.
If nothing else, A Future Lived in Past Tense established Juno as one of the best guitar bands on the planet, using the three axes to weave and grind and soften their songs. Equally capable of a punk rave or a 10-minute wash of quiet ambiance, Juno are one of the most dynamic bands playing. On top of that, Carstens makes his peers sound like grade school dropouts with his articulate narratives. And no one should fault them if their ambition occasionally outweighs their discretion (as suggested by the playing time), as it’s more a blessing than a curse. The most endearing thing though, is the fact that Juno care. They kick you in the gut, scream in your face, then sit in the corner and cry because the scolding hurt them more than it hurt you. God damn it, if you’d just listen.