By: Brent R.
Ask twenty different music critics to define “emo” and the only common link among their definitions would be the negative connotations of their adjectives. However, Pennsylvania’s The Jazz June just might have added enough math rock experimentation for said critics to think twice before dismissing its style of music. On The Medicine, the band's latest effort on Initial Records, The Jazz June tries leaving the sophomoric emo stereotypes behind in favor of a more mature indie rock sound and comes very close to succeeding. Some of the cliches inherent to emo remain, such as the whiney vocals and building and slacking intensity within songs, but the band throws in tempo changes, a harder edge, and better musicianship to raise the level of the music.
Granted, The Jazz June borrows heavily from The Promise Ring’s lyrical style and Braid’s musical style, but it has refined these influences in order to avoid “copycat” status. For example, the group uses the lyrical repetition that The Promise Ring has popularized, but the subject matter is not so much in the “look at me, I’m so rejected” vein. The Jazz June utilizes the start-stop/intense-soft music that Braid is known for, but the band has more musical talent, producing a fuller, tighter sound than the now-defunct Illinois band did.
The Medicine kicks off with an up-tempo song that is guaranteed to be every emo kid’s favorite in the summer of 2000: “Viva La Speed Metal.” You can tell that the style is characteristically emo, but the song's tempo mixed with the distinctive vocals makes you think otherwise. The second song clearly indicates that The Jazz June has not forgotten its emo roots; it builds slowly with deadpan vocals and a typically whiney chorus. By the end of the song, however, there are enough tempo changes and background vocals to redeem it. The next few songs stay true to the first two with shades of math rock and abrasive indie rock but still anchored in the emo category. The band experiments more on the last half of the album with staccato drumming, off-the-wall guitar meandering, sampling, and various tempo changes.
The Medicine will definitely be a top-five pick for emo fans this summer, and with any luck it will turn some naysayers’ heads with its musicianship and math rock tendencies. It will probably take another release for LeHigh Valley’s The Jazz June to shake the white elephant of “emo band”, though.