R.E.M., Drive-by Truckers, of Montreal, The B-52s, and Juan de Fuca? “Juan de who?” you might be asking. If you’re a history buff, you’re thinking that Juan de Fuca is a famous 16th Century Greek explorer and not five blokes from the southeast American city that made college radio popular. Fast forward to 2018, and Jack Cherry (vocals), Jack Webster (bass), Howard Stewart (drums), Clark Brown (guitars), and Declan Farrisee (guitars) have established their own port within Athens’ storied music scene with their debut album, Solve/Resolve.
Like their predecessors and the Greek maritimer, Juan de Fuca are charting their own indie-rock path. Through the record’s 10 songs, the quintet take us on a whirlwind ride filled with rollicking and choppy surfs and smooth sailing. Their mission, though, is not to arrive at a specific destination nor to discover anything. Instead, Solve/Resolve is a trip where the journey matters more than its results, as the LP is dedicated to Cherry’s best friend, who passed away while they were in college. As such, the stories told hold deeper meaning and value than any treasure could have.
“Two Years” stunningly opens the album with the bold and blissful cinema of The Walkmen. Cherry’s voice is pure emotion, as he sings about how someone “could not handle the hurricane”. The shoegaze rocker, “A Place To Wait”, is akin to the fury of A Place to Bury Strangers, and the intensity provides the perfect frame for the confusion that continues to reign over Cherry. Meanwhile, the slow-building “Get It Right” bellows of fellow Athens-based band Mothers with its stripped-down indie-rock approach and examination of the human mind.
The searing “Song 4” provides a warning in finding comfort in others. As Cherry repeats, “Do you always have to fuck to feel anything at all?“, we’re reminded of how escapism is fleeting. Cherry turns introspective on the elegant and dazzling “Instructional Video”, which musically feels like a midsummer’s daydream. Joined by singer-songwriter Faye Webster, Juan de Fuca deliver a song that is akin to the enchantment of DeVotchKa’s most imaginative fantasies.
Through pain and struggle, there is the difficult road to recovery, which is revealed on the album’s highlight, “Aa”. Commencing calmly like an uninterrupted sail through pristine waters, the song momentarily explodes into a storm before ebbing back and re-intensifying again. Throughout the ordeal, Cherry painstakingly clamors:
“I was so sure it was sacred.
I was so sure, I was shaking.”
Enlightenment erupts on the cathartic and catchy “All The Time”, where Cherry proclaims his mind is clear. Or is it? The title track reveals the conflict that still exists, as the front man describes an interrogation happening in his mind. But like with all struggles, there is closure, and the finale, “Satisfaction”, describes Cherry being “liberated by the present tense”. The song is epic, commencing as a rich and lush folk-rock number before transforming first into an intense indie-rocker and later becoming a melodic jam. It’s the perfect ending to an album that traverses the unpredictable seas of life, death, grief, and remorse. And maybe, Cherry and his band mates will do what others have not and overcome their own hurricanes.
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