“Marijuana’s on the Phone”
The second full-length from Michael Johnson (formerly of Holopaw and The Lilys) is as strangely juxtaposed as his moniker, Ape School. Peculiar placements permeate Junior Violence — his first release for Hometapes — from its name to its song titles (“A New Low! It Sucks Itself!,” “Marijuana’s on the Phone,” and “Weak in the Teeth”) to the lyrics to the instrumentation.
While that sort of whimsy can often feel joyful and lighthearted, Johnson comes off as more calculating than anything else: most tracks have everything but the kitchen sink, with synths, fuzz bass, and guitar tracks seemingly interrupting more synths, fuzz bass, and guitar tracks. Every track seems to feature Johnson in a different vocal style, with every instrument processed in some way.
Though this swell of sounds has its merits, Junior Violence shines most on the stripped-down tracks, when you can hear Johnson’s Jens Lekman / Stephin Merritt-ish voice at the forefront. The easy groove of “Ready for Duty” and the dreamy sweep of “Weak in the Teeth” are fine examples of what Johnson can accomplish should he let his songs breathe a little.
Pop purists may be frustrated by the sheer volume of instrumentation and the few off-key vocal moments. For fans of spacey, experimental pop rock, however, Junior Violence is an interesting experiment with moments of excellence.