Paper + Plastick Records
Canadian pop-punk quartet Junior Battles has been growing their catchy brand of lyrically sensitive anthems since first inking a deal south of the border with Paper + Plastick Records. Targeted at a stubborn but aging demographic of late twenty-somethings that refuse to give up on their adolescent aspirations, the Toronto-based band offers fans another chance to hang on to their dreams in their sophomore effort, Rally. Expanding upon their debut, Rally signifies a band refining their musical repertoire and branching out from their comfort zone with encouraging results.
“You will score the winning goal, cause you are very good at sports, you’ve got several awards that recognize you as being the best in your town in 2003” chant co-vocalists Sam Sutherland and Aaron Zorgel as they describe the thoughts of those struggling to redefine themselves a decade after high school. Aided only by distant and drawn guitar reverb, the band eases into the first fifty seconds with steady growing handclaps accompanied by anthemic delusions of grandeur. It’s a somber statement and captivating departure unlike anything Junior Battles has attempted. Then “Rafts” follows with a heavy bass and maturely layered notes that jolt listeners out of Rally’s initial daydream and plant them squarely back in reality. Even just the phrase, “they say that the worst is yet to come,” contrasts with the album’s initially blind optimism.
After setting the tone Junior Battles expands their reach, emerging every bit more adventurous in the process. “Three Whole Years” ups the tempo while twisting slightly less than conventional chords between verses. “Believe It Or Not, George Isn’t At Home” celebrates life’s underachieving years in an uplifting melody and assertive gang vocals. “All the things you said you’d do but never did, all the dreams you had when you were just a kid… but I don’t even try anymore,” shouts Sutherland gleefully, capturing the blissful essence of a downward spiral. Meanwhile, “Assholes & Rollerblades” takes a rapid-fire, nasally pop-punk approach in the vein of Green Day or Ataris with some added late-track finesse (in the form of indie-esque vocal “oooos” that sweep the song into the minute long acoustic instrumental, “27th Floor!”). Thanks to Junior Battles’ innovative methodology, the songs seldom stick to any one formula.
Sutherland and Zorgel’s vocal chemistry also deserves a shout out. The way Sutherland and Zorgel trade lines and words will inevitably encourage comparisons to Mark Hoppus and Tom Delonge’s synergy in Blink 182. Their collective comfort feels high, as neither seems terribly concerned about fading into the other’s shadow. A quick survey reveals how vocal highlights in “TPS Report” and “Every Town” take advantage of Sutherland and Zorgal’s respective high and low pitches reinforce each track’s emotional evolution.
But just when the disc seems to hit its peak, the band ends on a brilliant two-part note. The first, “Architecture II: Future Music for the Children of the Future,” serves as the spiritual successor to Idle Ages’ memorable gang-led interlude of a similar title. This time around Junior Battles has penned a lyrically ambitious anecdote to bring the whole outing full circle. Speaking in a coarse whisper amidst a slowly dissipating instrumental void, the band revisits the concept of lost years in the passage “planned a life till 23, sleep a week and wake up 28.” Paired with the powerful realization that “every decision you’ve ever made is haunting you because it got you to this place,” a track later the album’s disillusioned protagonist concedes that, “I don’t feel invincible anymore.” Finally, “(You Are Very Good At) Sports” bookends the album by revisiting the blissful opening chorus, reinforcing the willpower required to “rally” one’s life by looking in the mirror and accepting the long road ahead.
Clocking in at a mere twenty-six minutes, Junior Battles drives home a clear and concise message. Rally’s overarching themes unravel in rewarding chunks that leave just enough open to interpretation to challenge listeners’ intelligence. For a sophomore performance, Junior Battles has come leaps and bounds since their already impressive Paper + Plastick Records debut. While it might be tempting to ponder what follow-up course Junior Battles will cook up next, it is perhaps more important to savor this truly deserving dish.