For those of us alive during the ’90s, the idea of “nineties revivalism” just makes us feel old. But it’s been over a decade since the days of Tommy Hilfiger and the original 151 Pokémon—a bygone era relegated to VH1 clip shows and nostalgic Wikipedia browsing. However, the Yucks and the Cloud Nothings of the world have formed a flannel-clad contingent that remembers when punk broke. Angry guitars have returned to rebut electronic nonsense and pop rap, and now is as good a time as any to crank the amp and sing about feelings and inner strife.
That’s what Los Angeles’ Jr. Juggernaut are doing. Wake, the band’s second LP, is overcast and disaffected. No coincidence that those modifiers also describe the Seattle sound; Jr. Juggernaut are a grunge band. “It’s hard enough to make a living when all you can do is roll over and die,” frontman Mike Williamson sings on opening track “Sleeping Softly”. The lyrics, the dirty power chords, Williamson’s nonchalant delivery—these were the sounds of 1994. Unfortunately, Jr. Juggernaut sticks too closely to this formula, and Wake never sheds the “throwback record” relegation.
Tracks like “Heaven Knows My Name”, “The Revolution”, and “Night Shift” all follow a verse-chorus-verse template, and seemingly every song has a guitar solo after the second verse (Williamson wah-wah shreds, like J Mascis). Wake’s predictability grows tiresome. But when Jr. Juggernaut magnify the hints of country twang that are downplayed elsewhere on the album, they command a style more distinct than cookie-cutter grunge. Highlight “Give Me My Son” sees Williamson as a father whose only son is killed in action while at war. Heavy southern-rock grit compliments the subject matter, and suddenly Jr. Juggernaut sounds like the Drive-By Truckers instead of a Buffalo Tom clone.
“Nineties revivalists” is a limiting tag, but Jr. Juggernaut doesn’t branch out enough to be considered much else. Williamson’s heart is in the right place—he comes off as authentic everyman—but Wake is too repetitive and mines a sound that’s played out. It was played out 15 years ago by countless acts riding the post-Nirvana wave. Jr. Juggernaut fails to distinguish itself from this dead-and-buried past.
Essential Tracks: “Give Me My Son”