Playing music live and committing something to record are two entirely different things. Now I’ve got stating the obvious out of the way please bear with me. Junks, a permanent fixture on Hangzhou’s live music scene over the last few years, playing all over China and even in Europe, have only now put out their first official release. WHY?!!!! I refer you back to my first sentence.
Anyone that has witnessed Junks live knows this is not four slackers who just rock up to the venue in whatever they fell out of bed in. Unless they sleep in laser firing shoulder pads which I can’t imagine would be very comfortable. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve nothing against people just taking to the stage with little regard for how they look even though that can be contrived in itself of course. I think it was Neil Young who stated, with obvious reverence for a particular era, there was a time during his heyday where the quality of the music eclipsed the performer’s appearance. I can dig that. Check out the ‘The Last Waltz’. Some of the performers don’t exactly look slick. And where’s the strobe lighting? Doesn’t matter. The music’s so brilliant you’re not thinking about them being a scruffy bunch of hippies.
However, music is a broad church and there is a massive place for stagecraft and putting on a show. It’s damn important. And the world would be a lot less colorful without it. You can tell when you see Junks live that David Kay and co are trying to put across a particular vision. An aesthetic Kay thinks a lot about and matters to him a great deal. Nevertheless when an act plays live there must be a certain amount of letting go for it to be a successful gig. The singer can’t quite hear the guitar as much as they’d ideally like? Forgeddaboutit. Head down. Put everything into the performance. Soundcheck has been and gone and, besides, the sound might be perfect front of house anyway so why nitpick, especially when everyone is having such a great time? Sure if something regarding the overall sound is REALLY wrong then it needs fixing but a live show is also more about being in the moment. When it’s over, it’s over. Who in the audience is really going to remember if the snare could have been ever so slightly higher in the mix? A memory of a gig is so much more than that. It’s a communal experience. It’s the sharing of, hopefully, a beautiful but fleeting moment between artist and audience.
With a record however if something is wrong it’s going to be preserved that way FOREVER, the recent tendencies of artists such as Kanye West to revise music that has already been released notwithstanding. Seriously, I’m probably going to sound old here but what is up with that? Finish the album before you release it dude. Draw a line under it and move on you utter control freak. If there are glaring errors then do your job properly in the first place. I’m looking at you Astroworld. Oh so I’ve bought your album and/or downloaded it and now I have to get another copy because you’ve decided actually it’s not done yet? TOO LATE. I’m not re-downloading it you egomaniac. But you can just stream the updated version I hear you cry. I live in China nitwit. I can’t just presume I’ll be able to stream ANYTHING. And also I’m one of those strange people who thinks someone brave enough to stand up and make an artistic statement has created something valuable enough for me to want to enjoy it without the continual threat of a fricking buffering symbol hanging over my head. I know. I’m just weird like that. My music being interrupted by a rubbish Internet connection raises my blood pressure. Technology gives but it also takes away.
Stay with me. This is going somewhere. So. Back to Junks. All this time we’ve been waiting and all they give us is a six track EP? Well anyone who has seen the live show will immediately be aware of how much work goes into what they do and how it comes across. It’s no surprise to me therefore that the EP took this long to finish. And it’s worth the wait believe me. Whilst much is made of the 80s vibe with this group, let’s face it, as important and influential as many developments in the 80s were and still are, modern production, in the hands of people that know what they are doing, sounds amazing. Junks are such people. Mixed and mastered by David Kay and Onichan from the group, these tracks sound really crisp and clear. So you’ve got the best of both worlds here. If you like 80s inspired music it ticks that box but with a not insignificant modern reboot.
Yes, yes, yes you say but what about the songs? Well David Kay wouldn’t have scored a deal with Parlophone during his time with Tiny Dancers if he didn’t have some serious songwriting chops would he? It is not a talent that has deserted him. This is a man who knows instinctively how to reel you in with a melody. Underneath the shiny veneer of ‘Everybody’s Movin’ we have a track that’s actually quite thoughtful and reflective be it framed with a jaunty rhythm. This is a song that will do enough to catch your attention but also leaves plenty of scope with which to take the music up a notch.
‘Tellin Stories’ has a distinctive dual vocal cutting through that blends perfectly with the bouncing synth lines and electronic drum sounds. It keeps the momentum going for what comes next in the form of ‘Kinda Heavy’. Now, this is a real live favorite so I was a little bit worried about how it might come across on record as sometimes it can be a disappointment when a release doesn’t capture the enjoyment of the live experience. There was no need for concern it transpires. Somehow it retains the vibrancy of a gig and really gets the pulse racing. It takes a lot to get me moving on my steady diet of ever increasing sleep deprivation but this song can even get me feeling like I might just move out of my seat. At some stage. To get more coffee.
After the pace of the preceding song, something of a slight lull is welcome with ‘Mirror Mirror’. This is one I don’t think I’ve heard much before so possibly it is a relatively new addition. It has a more straightforward feel in terms of the groove, with a darker undercurrent which then gives way to a lighter and really catchy vocal hook you can imagine festival crowds singing along with. ‘Stop believing in things that aren’t real’ is the opening line of the spoken word segment by Ursula Kay towards the end of the track. A universal message if ever there was one given the times we’re living through.
Back to another popular live track with ‘Rich Girls’. It’s interesting to be able to hear more detail. Particularly the lower pitched vocal. This is the advantage of having something on record and listening on headphones. Nothing is lost. This song arguably sums up what springs to mind when you think of Junks. Infectious synth parts. Check. A hook that gnaws its way into your brain. Check. Ursula rapping. Check. What’s not to enjoy?
‘Nuclear Holiday’ proves the perfect conclusion. Following an ominous vocal sample opening we have more great pop melodies heightened in their effect through the use of doubled up vocals and a synth line that carries everything along on the back of a big sounding snare. This rounds off an addictive debut EP that will hopefully help bring Junks to a wider global audience, something they deserve as they’ve shown on numerous occasions they can cut it on big stages. My only criticism is I’d have liked ‘Slipstream’ on there. That aside, if the apocalypse is nigh then let’s hope it’s this much fun.
‘Junks’ is out now on Modern Sky.
It’s available in Internet world on platforms such as Bandcamp (our favorite) but will release officially in China on September 28.