Prog You Hard and Long

June of 44
with Dianogah, the Boom and Forecasts Farewell
Crosstown Traffic
Vancouver, B.C.
Tuesday, April 14, 1998

Review by Darren Kerr

Yowza! Yowza! Yowza! Prog rock was really kicking against the pricks tonight at the funky shoebox known as Crosstown Traffic. Yes, that's right I said PROG ROCK! P-R-O-G. It's not a dirty word anymore, and it's certainly not an insult. And even though this form of progressive music is a more grittier, punk-influenced sturm und drang than the Gentle Giants and Red Krayolas of yesteryear, their ghosts were at this show downing ethereal pints of lager and shouting, "Give it to 'em lads!!"

Vancouver's own Forecast Farewell put this show together, and they led off the night with four songs that show them to have potential. The rhythm section is fairly tight and will only get tighter as they get more experience. Their stutter-step pieces possess strong chordal interplay, and good ideas. They just need to keep fighting the good fight and the pieces will all fall into place.

Next up to the plate was Washington D.C.'s the Boom, with June of 44's Freddie Erskine pulling double duty on guitar and vocals. Their trombone player couldn't make the trip, so it was up to Erskine, drummer J. Carrier, bass player Booker T. Sessoms III, and sax player Carlo Cennamo to provide all the boom they could. They were definitely up to the task. They had a rhythmic underbelly that was funky and dirty like Spongehead or a pissed-off Morphine. Erskine's guitar approach was big, black, and bluesy, like Stevie Ray crossed with Steve Albini, while his vocal was equally Iggy and Darby. "Texas Telephone" and "Heavy Dose" were great horny skronk. Papa's gotta brand new Pigbag called the Boom. They have a full-length out on Slowdime. Geddit!

Dianogah, from Chicago, were primed and ready to pipe us full of BASS. Two bassists and a drummer, Dianogah practice the same brand of bottom-end dementia as those Japanese madmen the Ruins do. The best way to describe them is the sonic equivalent of an Escher drawing. Tandem chords and harmony runs come and go at will, and you never know what notes are around what corner. It's like playing hide and seek with an illusionist. Not only were they technically proficient dynamos, they also displayed a disarming sense of humour when one of the bassists jokingly introduced a song saying, "this is a song about a drink. It's called 'Tequila.'" Still, though they were really entertaining, and no matter how brilliant their musicianship was, near the end it was all starting to sound the same.

"June of 44." Sounds both nondescript and mysterious doesn't it? All the band's members are in different bands. Singer/guitarist Jeff Mueller is in Shipping News with his former Rodan bandmate Jason Noble; drummer Doug Scharin is in Him and Rex; guitarist Sean Meadows is in Lungfish; and I've already mentioned bassist Freddie Erskine's Boom. Quite a list.

June of 44's set was full of intense, intricate instrumentation. Their music, like the love letters Henry Miller sent to his wife June (the date of which the band takes their name from), talks to you with caressing tones before letting you know that what it really wants is to fuck you hard and long. Scharin and Mueller shift from soothing dissonance to free form Fripp-out without missing a step. In "Anisette," there were both angry lurching chords and playful glissandos, while "Sharks and Sailors" wove an epic tale of nautical bitterness with caustic rants and keyboard-like harmonics.

At times Mueller's voice sounded like a dead ringer for Steve Albini circa Big Black's classic Songs About Fucking, or Rapeman's "Trouser Minnow." In other places he sounded like a crustier Steven Malkmus. Visually, the selling point was the intensity these guys put into every note they wrenched from their instruments. They looked like sideways pistons, power-swaying back and forth, locked in the moment as one group mind.

June of 44 have three recordings out: 1995's Engine Takes to the Water, 1997's Tropics and Meridians, and their latest EP, titled Anatomy of Sharks. Get them. Whether you call them "math rock," "post rock," or "prog rock," it doesn't matter. They play challenging music and they hit really hard.

(A final aside: Crosstown Traffic may be a cool place to hang, but not necessarily to see shows, because unless you are six feet tall, or right up front, your chances of seeing the band are about the same as scoring a decent dime in Pigeon Park. Raising the stage a foot or so would make a world of difference.)

First published in Drop-D Magazine on May 18, 1998

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