In preparation for my seeing Dishwalla perform at the Paramount later this month, I’ve decided to give their latest album, Juniper Road, a well-deserved go. For reference, their previous eponymously-titled album fared decently, nearly breaking the top 10 on the US Indie charts. This is representative of a steady trend, whereby 90s acts who were once of prominent mainstream stature, like Dishwalla, experience success on a more poignant, underground scale. It was also the last album to feature original front man JR Richards, who would amicably part ways with the band amid pursuit of a solo venture.
Nonetheless, the 12-year lapse between the eponymous album and Juniper Road wasn’t so much filled with uncertainty as it was an effort to unify familiar and fresh talent. Beginning in 2008, founding members Scot Alexander and George Pendergast reclaimed their respective roles as bassist and drummer, while former Tripvadon vocalist Justin Fox came on board as Richards’ successor. With this present permutation having lasted close to decade, the revitalized Dishwalla evokes an unexpected yet seasoned rapport with hardcore and budding fans alike.
Opening Juniper Road is “Sirens,” a fine glimpse into the band’s stylistic expansion. There’s solid pace in the intro’s progression, as it initially draws from Love-era Cult, then unfolds into an open field. Being Fox’s recording debut with Dishwalla, his tonality exhibits similar competence as that of Richards. It comes off as a bit edgier in terms of presence, but blends nicely into the gliding guitar melody that persists. Once the chorus hits, I appreciate his accentuated harmonies in how they support the depth of the guitars. Next up is the album’s carrier single, “Give Me A Sign.” Under normal circumstances I would be indifferent to these kinds of songs, given the straight-ahead nature of their arrangements and lyrics. Acknowledging that the single was recorded in Joshua Tree (with one of its streets comprising the name of the album), though, it still manages to evoke a very off-the-grid feel. The percussion still has enough variation to support its melodic happenings, and it plays as if the listener conducts an escape. “Mazelike Garden” fits well into that notion, centering on residing in a place away from society. It is something pleasing to the senses on a surface level, while having a complex skeleton. The song’s main chord sequence is tightly woven alongside sparse atmospheric textures. Its chorus utilizes the same idea, interplaying bursts of heaviness with calm, reverberated leads. Even among those that are distorted, nothing becomes cluttered or abrupt. On the track to follow, “Miles Away,” the theme of impulsive escape remains intact. From this song’s particular intro chord sequence, it begins delving more into the band’s signature sound – balanced moments of calm and intensity, encompassed by a synth-laden core. “Don’t Fade Away” thereby serves as its contemporary answer, with an up-tempo rhythm and seamless return to the edge. Fox also exhibits better vocal diversity, shifting between appropriate dynamics, and even getting a handle on a type of pop delivery. I also started homing in especially on how his presence alternates in the verses and choruses; it is nothing less than commanding in both scenarios. Capping this sentiment of loneliness is “Here for You,” which couples a taste for civilization with a subsequent longing for intimacy. However, as the thematic sequencing of these songs settles in, it’s made clear that a gleam of hope isn’t too far off.
Thus, the opener for the second group of tracks “Hand in Hand” centers on having acquired a stronger emotional backbone by way of loyalty regardless of outcome. Encouragements of faith to the subject’s distant lover are continually made, along with a willingness to push forward. It isn’t until the bridge of the song, however, that I was thrown for quite a surprise. The extent of Fox’s vocal range is demonstrated by the best means possible, full of passion and versality without sounding overpowering. Both tracks to follow, “Now I Know” and “Not Alone,” make exceptional follow-up singles that expound upon the notion of wanting to achieve freedom – in both a physical and psychological sense. Upon seeking another change of scenery, the subject aims to make sure that ties with their significant other are not completely severed, but solidified. By the penultimate track, “Set Me Free,” there’s a confidence instilled that insinuates a sincere connection with the other could eventually be established. I liked how the solo in the latter portion of the song began with a subtle, clean entrance, but then popped into overdrive as if to insinuate progress on the horizon. The final track, “Waiting on You, Love,” has one of the best stylistic representations of a lull in contact with another. Its spacy, distant feedback bed alludes to mentally pacing back and forth, while cumulative leads, resemble that of agitation. Emotional barriers, which are expressed theoretically, continue to leave the subject in a seemingly inescapable rut. Still, their confidence triumphs through a circumstance where longing for togetherness remains the central goal, and only time will tell when said goal is ultimately met.
Overall, Juniper Road provides a welcome and ample return to the journey of Dishwalla. The presence of Justin Fox over JR Richards may prove an aspect getting accustomed to (even for myself), but I’d like to think of the change as part of a revolving familial cast. All of the songs on this album exhibit a similar degree of what drew fans to the band in the first place. The songs are heavy, soft, introspective and atmospheric, while containing a perspective as much akin to the phases of the band’s career as they do a desire to escape. As my first in-depth listening of this album will later be complemented by witnessing a live performance of this material, I truly wish the band all the best.
“Give Me A Sign” Lyric Video: