Schools play a vital role in our culture. Sure, they teach basic skills like reading, writing, math, and science, but they also serve an important function as the first line of defense in our society’s moral compass. School is the first time most children figure out who they are, how to interact with others, and what’s right and wrong. While most kids learn by doing, there are also a certain number of platitudes everyone has instilled in them from an early age. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Sharing is caring. And, of course, “don’t judge a book by its cover.”
While these principles serve as revelatory words of wisdom in our youth, they sort of just fade into the background once we reach adulthood. Call it jaded, or heartless, or just chalk it up to a sad by-product of caring less, but these tenants that seemed so important in childhood quickly become eclipsed with different concerns like fitting in, making money, and capitalistic self-worth.
And I’m not just pointing fingers here; I’ll be the first to admit I wish I considered these phrases and their implications more often. I’ve recently caught myself judging a book by its cover not only in life, but in my hobbies too. From music and video games to TV and movies, sometimes I’m just looking for an excuse not to like something. Whether its a TV show with an impenetrable mountain of episodes, a viral video that’s a few minutes too long, or an album with a cover I don’t like, sometimes it’s easier to just write some off before committing to it. This is all to say that I judged Small Town Junkies before I’d heard even one song, and now I wish I hadn’t.
Hailing from Streetsboro Ohio, Small Town Junkies is a multi-faceted music project helmed by David Stump creating emphatic alternative rock that’s so steeped in 90’s Love it would make J Mascis blush. After making waves in his local scene with “Vampire Summer” off Small Town Junkies’ first EP, Stump segued this newfound visibility into multiple projects including the group’s debut full-length, an acoustic album, a stoner rock album, and a highly-collaborative internet-fueled record. Now ready to drop his newest LP as Small Town Junkies, Stump’s 12-song The Music Industry is Dead. is set to release September 28th.
While Stump’s blown-out HDR-abusing aesthetic is consistent across his Bandcamp page, album art, and music videos, I jumped into The Music Industry is Dead. expecting something completely different than what I got. The record’s titular opening track wades the listener into the album with a self-deprecating, tongue-in-cheek sentiment as Stump sings “The Music Industry is Dead / I’d rather read a book instead” over a jangly guitar. Shifting from a low vibrato into a bright chorus, the song opens up like a county road in a moment that sets both the tone and mission statement for the remainder of the album. Content to spread ideas and connect with an audience, Small Town Junkies admit that there’s no money in what they’re doing, but that’s why they’re doing it. Stump and his band are chasing something ephemeral, something soul-affirming, something more.
Third track “Never Enough” serves as the album’s lead single, a distorted and funky cut with a rhythm that sways back and forth at an extremely-headbangable pace. Alternating between chest-inflating southern rock verses and high-rising choruses, “Never Enough” centers around a groovy riff that leads to both an early-album highlight and an absolutely killer single.
Once I’d made it even a few tracks in, I was able to see the brilliance that lied in wait behind the album’s multi-colored cover. Actually a wonderfully-apt indicator of the record’s vibrancy and maximalism, I quickly found myself regretting my initial judgment.
After that early trio of songs, the album takes the listener on a voyage of childhood memories, long-lost love, and newfound hope. Both “The Haymaker” and “I Feel Fine” revel in memories of recess, cafeterias, and schoolyard fights, meanwhile “We Just Met” is an earnest recount of love on first (or second) sight that’s at once hilarious and heartfelt. From getting lost in the minutiae of caller ID and living room dates to the double-edged sword of being unemployed (which means having all the time in the world, but none of the money), the album is packed with clever observations and catchy choruses.
The style and texture of Music Industry also change as the album ventures forward. “Not Alone” is one of the record’s most slow-moving tracks with a spaced-out and airy guitar that quickly ratchets up the distortion on the choruses for a borderline stoner rock effect. Much like Bush’s “Bomb,” the track builds beautifully into explosions of love and regret that swirl together into a void of nostalgia.
Album closer “We Made It” centers around an earnest slice of life tale about busking for ice cream. The song builds up to a gummy Weezer-esque chorus that’s guaranteed to get stuck in your head for hours. But it’s not over there, the secret song “Mean Pitbull” makes its entrance after several minutes of silence with a pang of blown-out guitar. Sending the listener off on a reminder of the joy that can be found in the simple things, the final song bears an endearing message of happiness wrapped around one of the album’s most well-crafted choruses.
The Music Industry is Dead. has more cards up its sleeve than you might initially expect. Despite how harshly I judged the album based on its cover, I found myself emerging from the LP having enjoyed every second of it. Deeply personal, sometimes troubled, but incredibly well-put-together, The Music Industry is Dead. is an alternative rock release that’s guaranteed to take you back to the amber-coated memories of your 90’s childhood.