Jr. High – Killer of Friendships (1998)

“All I ever really wanted is to be your friend!”

R-5038174-1382824094-2645.jpegHere’s one I’m convinced nobody cares about but me. Even at the time I don’t remember ever reading about or hearing any talk of this record. I ran into Sean Croghan at a show in Portland (OR) a couple years later and by chance had just been playing this on the drive down. I told him how great it was, and the sadsack said something to the effect of “I wish I thought so.” I was floored the few times I saw Crackerbash live, but didn’t get into the records as much as I wanted to (and conversely, never got to catch Jr. High). This album just somehow hit the sweet spot for me, and gonna see if it still does 18 years on.

“Back Off” starts with a chugging riff, and Croghan’s howl sounds impassioned right out of the gate. With a second guitarist and backing vocals, already this is a fuller-sounding band than Crackerbash. “Gotta Problem” is incessant in its racket, and a glorious one. The prevailing theme is heartbreak—cathartically exorcised through power pop. Croghan is unquestionably under the spell of the first decade of Elvis Costello And The Attractions, complete with storm warnings and even cribbing the definitive declaration that “clowntime is over.” Nobody gets out unscathed, as “Brian’s Pain” and “Sage’s Lament” make plain. In the 90s we all had our indie rock bass player crushes and mine was Joanna Bolme (truth be told, this kinda persisted through her stints in Quasi and The Jicks) who plays some mournful organ on the former tune. “Sage” takes the less mopey route, and one can almost imagine her pogoing her pain away at this frenzied pace. The pulled lyric at the top is from “Today Is The Day” (though I think prefer the 45 version called “Mouthful of the Past”) and kinda says it all—that desperate plea for understanding we’ve all made that is patently dishonest in its revisionism. Croghan sells the hell out of these sentiments, and while I can’t follow all the travails of “Daddy’s Little Princess” the tale of a “drunken debutante” and “devil doll” is undoubtedly a sad one. How in hell did the hooks of “Lowest Common Denominator” escape almost everybody? “Storm Warning” woulda been another jukebox exploder, with some tricky guitar interplay and one of ’em making a sound I can only describe as meaty. Only “Writer’s Song” makes a dramatic mood swing (as in full-on drama) that feels unearned. In a record of otherwise perfectly-crafted songs, the compelling individual sections don’t quite congeal. The album quickly recovers through sheer force of will with the screamer “King of Clubs”—the most unhinged thing here. I want to imagine that the drummer’s bandmates call him Paul “The Pulverizer” Pulverenti, but that would be kinda silly. Following that, “Fruitland” sounds almost comically polite, and a lovely closer. I’m sure nothing can be done at this point to counter the indifference and neglect this album has suffered. I guess it’s a bit like wondering if that first person to break your once-fearless heart ever thinks about you.

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