Release date: August 7, 2012
Philadelphia’s Ape School, led by Michael Johnson, released their psych-pop album “Junior Violence” today on Hometapes, home to bands such as AU, Bear In Heaven and Megafaun. In an attempt to avoid any overblown, bloviating music criticism on my part, let’s just say that the album is breath of fresh air in this summer full of droughts, derecho mega-storms, economic devastation and the pulverizing effect of the 2012 election. Breathe, folks. Breathe in Apes school’s psychedelic goodness.
“A New Low! It Sucks Itself” sets the table for the acid-tinged buffet, but “Marijuana’s On The Phone” should more completely pull listeners into Michael Johnson’s sonic vortex. This is the type of music for passing that joint, or buying a bag of boomers and heading off into fields of flowers to watch them melt.
Ape School doesn’t just massage the senses, but makes listeners groove, as they do on “Carry On” and “Cocaine & Guns ASAP,” two vastly different tracks. The former does so in a quasi-Kinks, musical hall type of way while the latter raids the post-punk memory bank. (Think Echo & The Bunnymen or Simple Minds.) As a consequence, Johnson’s crack at the more psychedelic forms of New Wave is far more convincing than M83′s obsession with the decade’s aural signposts.
The mood turns rather more somber on “Dirty Money,” which is an amalgam of shoegaze and New Wave, again. There’s more than a faint trace here of Kevin Barnes’ vocal perambulations in Of Montreal, but that’s no knock against Ape School. It’s just another color in the shifting musical palate of “Junior Violence.” A palate that shifts again with “Beneficiary (Don’t Blame Me)”, which adapts the ambient art-pop of, say, Brian Eno. The effect produced is one of a soft, ambling journey through distant shores.
“Ready for Duty” is standard indie rock fare but well-written and produced nonetheless. The type of sound that might find its way into a commercial or a hip TV show. “You Don’t Know You Don’t Know” bends the album back toward the warped aesthetic again, with jagged guitar notes and synths that shoot like stars. With a timeless quality about it, there’s no doubt it’s one of the best tracks on the album. The spacey, shooting star theme returns on “Sourpuss Down to a Science,” which also displays some cute but cheesy synth notes here and there. Think Todd Rundgren’s “A Wizard, A True Star.”
Some bands have attempted to bring the psychedelic imperative into the 21st century with varying degrees of success, but Ape School are one of the rare few who have managed to make it work in a complete and convincing way.
Stream “Junior Violence” in full now over at WXPN before its official release date of August 17.
Check out the band’s “Weak in the Teeth” music video below.