When first hearing Junip's “Rope and Summit,” title track, presumable lead single, and opener of their newest EP, I'm not ashamed to admit that I thought, and possibly spoke aloud, the words, “HOLY SHIT I CAN'T WAIT TO HEAR THEIR ALBUM.” Yeah, I liked it that much.
This, before hearing that Junip is the project of José González, an artist I've always been sort-of indifferent to, almost to the point of dismissiveness.
This, while not knowing that the release the track is featured on is a mere four-song EP, not the full-album offering I'd been hoping for.
As a reviewer, forgive me if I focus on one track exclusively over others, but Junip's “Rope and Summit” is a track that's both refreshingly familiar and surprisingly inspired. Its tentative, folk-tinged openings and instrumentation build into a sparse, yet krautrock-energized, track that invites repeat listens by combining the former genre's plaintive guitars and the latter genre's insistent keyboards and drum patterns into an alluring combination of drive and mystery seldom heard in modern music. I can tell you it reminds me vaguely of Fleet Foxes and Yo La Tengo, although, truly, it probably won't sound like either of them when you listen to it. This is either the mark of an incredibly poor reviewer or an adept artist. I for one beg for your choice to err on the side of the latter, although the final decision is up to you.
The track that follows, “Far Away,” attempts to capitalize on the opener's momentum by beginning with an almost prog-rock jam as introduction, and while the motorik beat and suberb vocal contribution by González come close to living up to their tracklist predecessor, “Step in front of a runaway train/ Just to feel alive again” doesn't hold a candle to the stuck-in-my-head-ability of “Rope and summit, rope and summit” repeated over and over again, even though I STILL don't quite know what that track could be about, other than mountain climbing.
As for the third track of four, the eight-minutes-and-change “At the Doors,” if Yo La Tengo learned this song and decided to include it on their next record, one would be forgiven for insisting to friends that González and Co. had covered YLT and not the other way around, chronology be damned. For all its hypnotic, krautrock drive, the song fails to rise above its influences, and could've been written by any kraut-inspired indie group from the last two decades.
Closing track “Loops,” all softness and repetition, sounds like it could be exactly what the title implies, a palatable series of guitar and drum loops which vocals were applied over, despite its opening plea to “disconnect all loops.”
Ultimately, this EP is a prime candidate for the argument of single vs. longform. While offering an excellent single on the part of the title track, the rest of the album, for the most part, renders itself as only quietly enjoyable to the point that it might be soundtrack music. Rather than bringing into question José González and the two other obviously competent musicians who comprise the band, one wonders whether the current pressures of the music industry itself might have stunted this clearly promising offering, causing it to be released as a free download rather than a full-price album.