One of my favorite bits from The Simpsons comes from Homer purchasing a bomb shelter. He looks around at a model called “The Withstandinator” and excitedly begins flipping through a Gary Larson calendar. Page after page was met with Homer replying “I don’t get it” and eventually giving up. I especially appreciate that joke not as someone who doesn’t understand the finer things about The Far Side, but as a person who can look at something widely praised and all that comes to mind is, “I don’t get it.” That is how it felt listening to Stars in the Night, the latest full length offering from Milwaukee’s Indonesian Junk.
No one is more disappointed in how this discovery turned out than me. Unsure whether the folder labeled “Indonesian Junk” in the Bad Copy shared drive was a band I’d never heard of or some other exciting mystery, it being the former was a promising start. Not a lot of effort was required to find positive reviews that promised this album was some sort of snotty, pop-punk masterpiece. A lot of them. Combine that with the fact that a varied handful of people whose musical opinions I usually respect were already aware of the band. This should have been a guaranteed recipe for success. However, when I sat down to take in Stars in the Night, I couldn’t shake an unsettling feeling that I was missing something. It’s a lot like when I see a meme I know should be funny, but I am just not laughing.
Determined to get to the bottom of this, I gave the record another few go’s as I walked to and from work over the next few days. Almost as soon this little campaign started, it hit me. The first track “I Would Never Treat You Like That” contains the lyrics ” Why am I so, so lonely and he’s got the coolest girl, coolest girl in the world? I don’t know why you let him, why you let him, why you let him treat you like dirt.” It’s all downhill from there as the narrator asserts over and over and over and over again how he would never, never, never, never, never treat you like that. It’s hacky as shit and I can’t help but think how the fellas in this band must be some especially nice guys.
Given how many times I’ve managed to get through the album, the reviews that amuse me the most in retrospect are the ones praising the vocal work, instrumentation, production values, and ability to craft interesting pop songs. The best way I could describe the vocals would be as a second rate Tim Armstrong impersonator doing a third rate Tom Petty impression. This is best exemplified in the title track “Stars.” I honestly have no idea what singer Daniel James is saying on most of the songs, but what I pick up doesn’t excite me. Every time I think maybe a bit about the strength of the guitar leads or how tight the drum work is might come true, it’s totally blown with a litany of sour notes or being off tempo. It’s sloppy, but not nearly energetic enough to justify it. If there is any strength to this record, it is in the catchiness of the music. I’ve found a few of the songs stuck in my head over the last few days, but I’m not exactly thrilled about it.
Spotify tells me Stars in the Night is only 30 minutes, but every song way over stays its welcome and the whole thing feels at least twice as long. The tracks all follow the same formula of repeating either the chorus or title of the song, often one in the same, at the end of the song ad nauseam. By the time “Why Did I Call You” was winding down, I found myself alone in my house, yelling out loud an answer to the 50th or so time the title question came up. Not generally a good sign. It never really got better from there. I almost got into “Turn to Stone,” but it was the same story of dragging on too long and turning into a chore to finish. I’m pretty sure what I liked about it is how it kind of sounds like a Tiger Army song and that’s not really saying much these days. I’m really bummed this didn’t work out because apparently Indonesian Junk have another album that this one is supposed to be a big step up from. I couldn’t think of a less exciting prospect. If there really is something I’m missing and you get the appeal of this band, by all means check this out. Maybe you could fill me in. Something tells me that the fictional nuclear war with France that lead Homer to be shopping for a bomb shelter in the first place will come true before then.