'Beautiful Life' - Junior / Turned Up Louder
When a scene becomes saturated with bands all clamouring for a piece of the pie, the ones that have the creativity and the courage to shatter the mould are, inevitably, the ones that rise to the top. The long-awaited debut LP from Welsh rockers Junior is a masterclass in making such profound yet well-crafted diversions from the norm. ‘Beautiful Life’ is as all-encompassing as its title suggests, with some tracks that draw heavily from their pop punk roots, and others that encompass a wild range of other influences, from metalcore-tinged melodies to elevating rock ballads. Lyrically, the record tackles the ever-complex ideas of mental health, self-expression and finding beauty and joy in a world that seems bleak: all woven together with a characteristic vibrancy to the phrases that makes this a perfect record to soundtrack the highs and lows of the summer to come, as well as the life beyond…
The influence of vocalist Mark Andrews’ time spent working as a WWE wrestler in the USA is audibly prevalent in the vivid brightness that permeates much of the record. A heavenly introductory chorale of children’s voices signals the opening of ‘Girls and Boys’, as the thunder of drums meld seamlessly into the ethereal harmonising and the guitars rumble with a relentless pace. The whole track is drenched in a blindingly bright hue, reflected in the lyrics that speak of hope and perseverance: the track as a whole is beautifully, riotously uplifting. Summery brightness is a common thread weaving its way throughout the course of the record. Fizzing reverb and electronically enhanced vocal bursts bubble up through the melody on ‘Don’t Know What I’d Do’, as the low, springy bassline grumbles throatily through the verses, and a typically uplifting chorus line sets the backdrop for lighter-waving perfectly. ‘Dramatic’ continues the effervescent overtones, with uninhibited basslines that strum away with an infectious pace, which drop away in favour of a chorus that is soaring and spiralling- making it the perfect companion to a fading summer sunset.
Not every track is entirely warm and easy, however. ‘Playing the Part’ opens with a cascade of vivacious guitar lines, while burgeoning hopefulness undercuts the melody and feeds into the lyrics that champion individuality and the joys of self-expression. Light and airy it may be, but it still packs enough drive behind the chorus to still whip up a flurry of po-goers! Pulsating drum beat pounds away through ‘Day of the Dead’s deeper layers, even as the rest of the song’s body drops away to expose the isolated strumming guitar tone, before all the layers build back in to a fist-pumping chorus, given all the more rousing gusto by the beat of silence that precedes it. While it is still adorned with those buttery overtones, the harmonising in the chorus begs to be shouted back up at a stage by a packed-out venue!
Additionally, there are many tracks that diverge much more profoundly from that established refrain of sunny optimism. ‘When the Tower Falls’ boasts a more biting edge to the scything guitars in the opening verses, guided along by a pounding storm of drums and a palpably driving bassline. A guaranteed mosh pit starter, the only mild disappointment lies in the fact that the chorus doesn’t carry the same gritty punch, with the lighter lead guitar taking to the spotlight once again, making it soaring and grandiose. Following a brief interlude of haunting xylophones and orchestral strings that prick up the hairs on the back of your neck, ‘Brick by Brick’ brings a breaking wave of thundering guitars line and crashing cymbals, as the rolling punch of the kick drum shoves the verses onwards. With darkly glittering guitars, and an electrifying, metalcore-fringed chorus, this short foray into darkness suits Junior perfectly. On the flip side, long, warm guitar strums partner deliberately simplistic lyrics on ‘Hey Becka’, which is an utter delight owing to how self-aware it is in its cheesiness. The voice of a young boy mellowing in his first love is audible, particularly as it breaks into a fervour of a lively pop punk melody, appealing directly to the spurned youth inside all of us! Most exciting of all is the MXPX- influenced ‘P.Y.D’. A raucous, pure punk tune, the guitars hurtle along and the drums canter at breakneck speed, with the flickering white-hot screams of Elijah adding a hitherto unexplored depth, passion and grit- this is one track that will undoubtedly bring a flurry of flying fists to any sold-out room, be it a sweaty basement or an crowded arena!
At the other end of the scale are Junior’s occasional forays into emotionally affecting ballads. On ‘Baby Blue’, the rich piano notes full of warmth go hand-in-hand with the isolated dual vocals, building through the first chorus with the inclusion of the heartbeat pulse of echoing drums. Ethereal harmonies in the bridge overture sound bites that espouse the band’s overarching philosophies, making this a grandiose, lighter-waving anthem with touching sentiment and mass audience appeal. Alternately, the tone of title track ‘Beautiful Life’ is a shade melancholier, with heart-wrenching lyrics that call to those who are broken down that make it cinematic in its lyrical scope and atmospheric grandeur: epitomised by the squealing guitar solo that carries all the hallmarks of a Queen-esque arena rock ballad.
Bringing this wonderfully eclectic record to a close, the infectious pace kicks back in on ‘Where and When’. Bittersweet finality bubbles away beneath the surface, while the stirring vocal line ‘we watch, and we wait, and we dream’ skims over the racing guitars, that flow like speeding cars along an open highway, heading towards a future in which Junior will undoubtedly play a highly influential part…
'Beautiful Life' is due for release on August 2nd as a self-release.
Check out the video for the record's lead single, 'Playing the Part', below: