IE - Junk Body
IE - Junk Body
Released April 14, 2023
IE is one of the few active groups I can think of that commit to a mellow vibe in a genuine way. These days, everyone seems to have an ambient/drone side project *cough cough* and so when a band like IE glows so purely, I appreciate it even more. As usual, this record is like a long, delicious sunset. There is a consistent duality of inhale and exhale as the album progresses. It seems like every other track is higher energy then lower energy, so each track leads naturally into the next, but it's always a fresh feeling. If you like fuzzy guitar, glittering organs, atmospheric vocals, and snares-off drums, then find yourself some shag carpet to sit on and give this one a spin.
The album opens with the title track, which as the album's liner notes explain, references some chronic health issues facing the drummer. It takes real courage to be so open about personal struggles like this. Moreover, it ups the ante for the record, because it could sound cheap if they didn't pull it off. Needless to say, I had really high expectations for this album, so when I heard the simple rhyme scheme, I was a bit dismayed. But I now see this as a commitment to elegance and clarity, rather than unmotivated vernacular flexing or pleonasms. Clearly they have taste and restraint that I do not! Like many of their songs, it's straightforward, and yet little pieces of it unfold in meaningful ways with repeated listens. For me, the idea of separating from one's body hit all too close to home, as I've only recently been getting over months of dissociative issues.
Jail is probably my favorite song on the record. While maintaining their quiet, restrained form, they manage to justify soaring arcs of sound. I can't help but lightly sing along with the catchy melodic lines that lead right into free-feeling organ solos reminiscent of times long past and ethereal saxophone meanderings. I feel like this song manages to hit every note on the record in one offering.
As much as I love this band, I was initially taken aback by Pentagram. The relatively uptempo guitar chords seemed a bit out of character. The melodic ideas reminded me of something like Morphine or even more recent psych revivals. In particular, the brusque chords under the lines, "Cuz next in line is Father Time," seemed like they were covering another band. Of course, after a few more listens, I realized that I had put IE in a tiny box, and they were expanding out of that box. I feel like they took chances and made bold moves with this song, and it for me, it really paid off. I think this song might be a good starter to acquaint someone with IE without pushing them too far out into the murk at first.
With the previous song being a bit higher energy, Smuggler really slows it back down. It feels like a little breather after a walk that was a bit longer than you'd anticipated. This song has the reverb shimmering everywhere, to the point it almost resonates too much, and ebbs just in time. It has a pleasant, cyclical "relaxed tension," like sitting cross-legged.
Hands on the Floor is probably my second-favorite song here. There are a lot of distinct, yet perfectly complementary textures swirling throughout. Moreover, the lyrics are again baldly evocative. IE is so consistently good at bringing meditative, throbbing, airy tracks into the realm of being listenable and catchy, but on this track, they manage to do all of that while still openly abusing analog filters, floating off into space, and reminding you to listen to The Legendary Pink Dots.
It's the same every time. The warm organ opens up the final track, Mel's Hole, and I am transported back to being a teenager in the nineties, up way too late, quietly listening to Art Bell Coast to Coast on the radio, and trying to not fall asleep, lest I miss out on whatever truths would be revealed. I'll admit that I had to look up Mel's Hole, because I didn't remember it from the broadcasts, but it refers to a hole that a recurring caller claimed to have found in Washington state, where paranormal activities allegedly took place. Many of the primary musical feelings from the other parts of the record (saxophone, analog synth swizzles, reverb that almost feeds back to a singularity, etc.) seem to reprise on this song, as well as vocals that are equal parts comforting and haunting. As much as I don't ever want an IE record to end, it always feels okay going out on this track, because it's a perfect conclusion to this record, and probably time for me to go to bed.
As of the time of this writing, we're a few hours from the halfway point of the year, and this is by far my favorite record this year so far. I strongly suggest that everyone should give it a shot!
Full Disclosure, IE has been one of my favorite acts for several years. I first met them by chance, as we were both playing shows in the same town, but different venues. They were kind enough to volunteer to push their show back just so that they wouldn't detract from my draw, and they even came and watched my show. I was truly touched by their kindness, as I've seen some stuff that makes you really doubt the goodness in people sometimes when you play music on the road. Obviously I had to check out their set, and I was absolutely blown away by their live vibe. I know this sounds trite, but I have literally slept in so many green rooms while other bands played over the years, and I am a bit of a snob about what music I listen to these days. So these folks really impressed me. Moreover, I nearly wore out my cassette tape copy of their album Pome before my very wise wife suggested that I stream it. Pome has been my top listened album on Spotify for the past two years because of her suggestion. However, Junk Body might just overtake it this year!
I really did intend to write this review when the album dropped, but I've been traveling a lot which is why I'm writing this around midnight from my temporary dwelling in Hanoi after a full day of mathematics research.