A Review of the Self-Titled Second Full-Length by The Juniper Berries
What to say first about the Juniper Berries? Musically, they pack so much into each track, it’s almost impossible to pinpoint their sound in one brief definition. Their new self-titled record is stronger than their debut, which also explored a diversity in genres, but had a less polished finish to it.
Josh Stirm is the mastermind behind The Juniper Berries. He talks about his latest album as being about “a young man’s ego, which is obviously me, and the pitfalls of young adult masculinity.” The lyrics take into account society’s flaws, with Stirm also keeping “an equally knowing eye” on his own mistakes, which he makes no attempt to hide.
Sometimes I wonder if The Juniper Berries are almost too determined to show the versatility of their talents. Case in point: They also have a recent EP, Missing Pieces (2020), that is drastically different from the new full-length album in that it basically stays in the same mood and genre, having introspective beauty throughout its six tracks. The first two especially flow together well in their stripped down, soft and vulnerable sensitivity. Stirm’s falsetto is known to be thin and emotional sometimes, but perhaps especially so here.
By contrast, The Juniper Berries keeps some of these tender, beautiful moments (such as the arpeggio tickling of the ivories in “Broken Spells”), but mixes them in with devil-may-care garage rock of “Star Studded Eyes,” Beatle-esque psychedelica as well as a casual bluegrass-type feel to the melody line of “Winning Streak,” the whimsical retro romp of “Give Up Yr Ghosts,” and the stark 80s synth of “A Tap on the Shoulder,” to name just a few. This multiple-genre play exists throughout the record, many times of course within the same track.
One of my favorite Juniper Berries tracks is an earlier one called “Putty in Yr Hands,” which matches the creativity of current single “Give Up Yr Ghosts.” “Putty” capitalizes on cleverly introducing jarring and dissonant sounds into serene, minimalistic ones. Until hearing it, I’d never known any other song so sparse to be pulled off as successfully and really work. For its music video, The Berries manage to simultaneously intrigue and somewhat repel at the same time, like a tickling of the funny bone that makes you squirm away yet also makes it hard to quit laughing. One commenter on youtube called the song “uncomfortably hipster,” and in this particular case, I would consider that to be a compliment; I’d like to think The Berries would agree with me.
Opening track on their latest, “A Tap on the Shoulder,” with lyrics about a voice “that could coax Jesus out of the manger,” starts with a warbling synthesizer intro and has a cool start/stop/start effect. “Queen of Taboo” was one of the last tracks written for the album. With a bleak opening, “splashy synths” (as so described on their website), and a gentle, supporting bassline, it seems to be a nostalgic track about reflecting back on simpler times. Stirm calls it the track most related to the new artistic direction their third album is taking, which is already in production.
The album closes with “Anecdotes,” which really rocks out in places and has a massive grand finale, twice! Stirm sings “Dream a little bigger kid, there’s more to this than making it big,” almost as a quiet reassurance to himself about his authentic reasons for being in the biz.
I can tell the band had a blast making this multi-layered, fun, experimental album. It makes sense that they would want to do something completely different than their last project. Considering they are already working on their third full length, I’d say they are artistically driven at this point in their career to put out as much material as possible.
Music by The Juniper Berries is available on their website: thejuniperberries.net.