Anyone who’s followed June Panic’s body of work over the past decade has had the interesting opportunity to chart the path of a thinking man gone sacred. Early works such as Glory Hole and The Fall of Atom: A Thesis On Entropy were Bowie-esque pop albums made with a Homestead-like DIY aesthetic. Then came his opus Horror Vacui, a blissed-out documentation of the epiphany and the ecstasy of a man in the process of surrendering to a higher power that had previously been unknown to him. For June, it was the death of his protagonist’s secular self. The follow-up, last year’s Baby’s Breadth, was a more sober affair – a meditation on rebirth featuring the same central character. Continuing the story of Panic’s “hero”, is his latest, Hope You Fail Better. Thematically, it comes after the after-glow as the protagonist grapples with everyday routine under his now-accepted higher power. The uncharacteristic optimism and fresh perspective on life which characterized his previous works is gone, as it’s obvious June has finally stepped out from the warm indoors and realized that he lives in Grand Forks, North Dakota.
On Hope You Fail Better, June’s written word is still in philosophy-speak, his melodies are still haunting, and his trademark vocals – about which he’s previously remarked that he “sometimes finds himself singing in harmony with god, while most people hear this as an off-key whine” – have never sounded better. Playing itself out in such a seemingly linear philosophical fashion, June’s body of work will most likely draw comparisons to that of Dylan’s mid-period (from motorbike wreck to Christian rebirth).
To make Hope You Fail Better, June enlisted Daniel Smith as producer/engineer/guru and as his band he chose players with whom he’s been playing for over a decade from his home of Grand Forks, eye of the ’97 flood. Prior to recording, the band hit the road with the album’s material, giving the playing on the record a real band-like quality, moreso than any of June’s previous albums. While maintaining that quality as a band-unit, nothing was sacrificed in terms of the playfulness and freshness of production for which Smith has become well-known as primary songwriter and brain-child behind his band the Danielson Famile. Songs such as “Breach Birth Control” juxtapose crunching guitar riffs with a sing-along chorus complete with handclaps.
“Paint Legs On the Snake” has the most interesting shuffle between drummer Jeremy Swisher’s wire brushes and Steve Bakken’s bass and some of June’s most surreal lyrical imagery: Even if the parking lot says “Go!” you can not go. Even when you’re salivating snow, your food gets cold. If his invitation is an order, no wonder no one comes.
June is the most common month for Americans to lose their virginity.