3 out of 5
Label: Secretly Canadian
Produced by: Vess Ruthenberg
There is the June Panic discography before Horror Vacui, and the June Panic discography after; there is punky, bitter JP, questioning his body’s icky biology against his faithfulness, and there is new father June Panic, folky and flourished tunes, coming to terms with how his impulses and this created life are an expression of that fate. Childhood; adulthood. Inbetween, you get that collegiate, maturing sort, who’s grown up, but has to write a thesis paper on what growing up means, and lest that seems like a bit of an extended metaphor, take a look at Horror Vacui’s lyric sheet: presented as a thesis and antithesis on ‘the existence of an absolutely necessary being.’
Now, to be fair, Panic has always had a pretty pretentious bent to his approach and lyrics, but there’s something rather dry about HV – internal struggles that are more conceptual than emotional – that also seems to bleed into the music, which is the most tamped down singer-songwriter folk of June’s discography. The Allmusic review puts forth a Dylan comparison, and that’s fair; not being a huge fan of Dylan, perhaps I’d return to this album more often if I was, but Horror Vacui was always my least revisited of Panic’s work. It’s not without its highlights, and all of the tracks maintain a baseline of depth and expressiveness; it’s not a boring album. But the dirge-y opener which is rather striking at first sets a tonal precedent that the disc has trouble getting out of, lending several of the following songs a same-sounding limitation. It also often seems like a waste of his credited band – Silver Sound – quite often, with the music seeming about as layered as June’s self-recorded stuff.
For these reasons, when the album swerves away towards more fleshed out territory that sounds like then-forthcoming Baby’s Breadth / Hope You Fail Better, the disc picks up: the title track is fantastic, and Only Give Light to the Morning has a nice shuffle to it, and The Reason, To Know gives us a haunting, shimmery guitar backing. So there’s definitely good stuff here, just much less defined, as an album, than the releases on either side of it.