June Panic – Hope You Fail Better

June Panic
Hope You Fail Better

The cover of June Panic’s latest release from Secretly Canadian, Hope You Fail Better, depicts the ribbon won by the singer/songwriter’s third-grade project in the 1983 El Paso city-wide Science Fair. Connecting zinc and copper strips to a lemon, June hoped to “make electricity flow” through the citric acid inherent in the yellow, egg-shaped fruit. The results? “Nothing happened!!” his third grade handwriting distresses, thus ornamenting his ultimate success with ultimate failure.
June’s musical and lyrical abilities are a bit more complex than attempting to jump-start a lemon battery, but he is still able to reflect on this notion of success through admittance of failure. “Let My Lungs Coin Words” picks up exactly where 2002’s Baby’s Breadth left off, with an alt-country twang topped off with June’s unique, off-key warble. “Only this creature who thinks and speaks in symbols can let symbols rule all creation and therefore lives only symbolically,” goes one memorably elliptical line. If anything, this should be an indication that June has moved passed Baby’s Breadth‘s seemingly simple themes of birth, childhood, and (loss of) innocence, and into a more circuitous realm of death and confusion.
Armed with an excellent backing band that includes Steve Bakken, Jeremy Swisher, and Jason DeMars, and benefiting from the smooth, expert production of labelmate, spiritual guru, and Danielson Famile member Daniel C. Smith, June seems more in his element than ever, though he doesn’t seem much happier about it. “Breach Birth Control” employs handclaps and a singsong chorus, but still laments, “They don’t give anything up with a smile. That’s because they don’t love you, child.” The idea that life’s problems begin directly with birth is an uncompromising and achingly sad notion, replete with June’s customary falsetto ascribing a childlike feel to the song that disturbs more than it comforts. “On H’s “They'” sways like rain-laden cemetery trees over a hushed funeral. Complete with a warbling saw and images of being “lowered into the dirt, then fed dirt,” the song seems to be an experimentation in dirge-like music, quite a departure from Baby’s Breadth‘s toy pianos and spiritual comedy.
“The World is Not A Place” picks up the pace and the beat, but still manages to find depression in its lemon-skinned folk-pop shell. “Ain’t it great to have a thorn in your side? To be raised in the dark? To be part of the chain? To be unable to explain your words?” June’s lyrical inquiries roll out in a confrontational and acidic way, while concealing a very surface-level pain. It seems that a lot of the songwriter’s spirituality has been replaced by a more reproachful philosophy. Invoking Highway 61 Revisited-era road tunes in “Paint Legs on the Snake,” June pulls out some of his most surreal lyrics, singing, “Even when you’re salivating snow, your food gets cold.” In “Leaving Me My Eyes,” June gently strums and picks at his guitar, and aims his cries skyward. “Oh Lord, the vision I count on has come undone,” he sighs, and realizes that although he’s married, he only sees a “coffin for one.” Once again, the success of his life is hemmed in by the inevitability of his failure to live it forever – and as he revealed in previous albums, “Death is gonna part you, like an oyster for a pearl.”
Hope You Fail Better‘s most revealing track is its first, and the only one June himself didn’t pen. “Dirge Without Music” is an Edna St. Vincent Millay poem set to Monsieur Panic’s layered guitars and funeral beat. “I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground,” he sings in a resigned and downtrodden fashion. Millay is often characterized with sexual freedom and a rollicking, bohemian lifestyle, which makes this choice from her oeuvre quite demonstrative of June’s crippling spirituality. “Into the darkness they go, the wise and lovely crowned with lilies, with laurels,” June groans through Millay’s rhymes. There is, however, no fear in his voice and in his words. Like all things in June Panic’s world, all of life’s fuck-ups, foibles, tears, and endings can simply be washed away in the end. “So how can I sleep another day,” he sings, “now that my soul has yawned awake?”