June of 44 – Four Great Points

3 out of 5

Label: Quarterstick

Produced by: Bob Weston

You’re right, I dont really “understand” June of 44, in the same way I don’t really understand Slint.  I like both groups, but they’ve never been quite the defining musical forces I feel like they’re supposed to be.  I’ve gone into this on other reviews, but I think it’s easy to get swayed with media history, to know that so-and-so are the originators of something and thus to cling to the notion that that original is the purest example of it.  When I think it’s reasonable to view it more as an unrefined version of whatever it is.  For June of 44, we’ll call it art-rock, spinning off of the mathness of, well, Slint, as well as lead Jeff Mueller’s previous group Rodan.

This distinction, for my continual revisionist history, is important, as it suggests my opinion would be similar even if I heard the group at their peak time, meaning the people that tell me “you had to be there” are wrong.  (I.e. Everyone is wrong except me.)  During my lifetime, there have been clear advancements in genre or style that I’ve witnessed, and I think I’ve had the dry-eyed stance to assess and say “I like this, but it could be better.” And then someone else comes along and I jump on their bandwagon because they offer the new noise, plus free cookies.  Win.

So June of 44 did a quiet-loud, intricately arranged, contemplative-lyric take on the chugga-chugga math rock thing, and for the same amount of time that Im grooving along to them, I’m also hating them.  I’m hating Mueller’s plaintive spoken word poems, and the pretentious-sounding reflections of tracks like Shadow Pugilist, or how Four Great Points’ expansion into strings and extra sounds are lauded but, to me, don’t add much to the songs.

But: Even when opener Of Information & Belief starts out making me roll my eyes, once the drums and beat kicks in, I’m sold.  June of 44 – when they shift into rock-out or instrumental mode – are a pretty awesome band, and the tightness they brought to their compositions was particular.  The restraint on something like The Dexterity of Luck is very “them,” grooving in this uniquely restrained way.  This extends to when they expand their musical palette, such as on the dub Lifted Bells, which is absolutely like a HiM track (thanks Doug Scharin) but has that nervy push-and-pull that Jo44 nabbed from Dazzling Killmen… and then funneled it through their lighter touch.

This conglomeration of sounds is why the band is notable, but again, I feel like others’ ran with that and took it further.  At moments, Jo44 bring the fullness of this sound, but its equally undercut by other moments which forever sound pretentious to me.  Four Great Points is about equally split on such moments, with a good rub of tracks in its middle that stay on what Im considering to be the positive side if that line.  But this also means that your intro and exit to the disc require sifting through some plucking and poetry, and if that’s not your bag – or you don’t have the patience to listen further – it can cast quite a shadow over the experience.