Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Juniper - self titled

In the midst of all the bleakness of 2020, the debut album from Juniper brings the world some much-needed sunshine. Juniper is the 15-year-old daughter of singer/songwriter, WFMU radio personality, and pop true believer Michael Shelley. In collaboration with her dad (who produced the album and wrote most of the songs), Juniper has created the rarest of things: an album in the style of '60s and '70s pop that sounds genuinely current in the year 2020.

A list of Juniper's primary musical inspirations (Beatles, Beach Boys, Zombies, Muffs, Fountains of Wayne) tells you a whole lot about the kind of record she has set out to make. Yet at the same time, she cites Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez as big influences on her vocal style. It's that mix of the old and new that makes her such an appealing artist. Regardless of whether the term "pop" makes you think of the timeless hits of the '60s, home-recorded indie tunes, or contemporary radio hits, this is a debut album that ought to delight you to no end. As a singer, Juniper possesses a mixture of charm, sincerity, and immense likeability that ought to make her a star. And while Michael Shelley wrote most of the lyrics, Juniper was given full veto power in the event that any word did not ring true. These are timeless sounding songs from the perspective of melody and production. Yet they feel so "now" because Juniper is singing about what it's like to be a teenage girl in the modern world.

Song topics on Juniper's debut album cover everything from magical days at the shore with boys to secret crushes to real teenage heartbreak to neighborhood garage bands to best friends trying to move in on your boyfriend. In this age when it often feels like romance is dead, many of these songs come off as refreshingly old-fashioned...but not in a way that feels dated. The Brian Wilson inspired ballad "Girls Just Want A Boy To Rest Their Head On" is an absolute thing of beauty - and a reminder that young hearts still dream of love that goes way beyond surface attraction. "Sticking With My Henry" celebrates those nice, reliable guys who are so often overlooked. Michael Shelley and Juniper really excel at combining their talents to tell really great stories. "Kids On My Corner" condenses an entire short story into two minutes of pure joy (The line "The other kids in the cul-de-sac/Wouldn't like The Beatles if they came back" is priceless!). "Everybody's Got A Crush On Chad", about a boy who captivates everyone for no easily identifiable reason, just feels like real life. Haven't we all known our own version of Chad?

Supporting Juniper and her dad in the creation of this debut album was a star-studded cast of indie/power pop musicians. Marshall Crenshaw, Dennis Diken (Smithereens), Chris Geddes (Belle & Sebastian), Jay Gonzalez (Drive By Truckers), Steve Goulding (Mekons, Nick Lowe, etc.), Ira Kaplan (Yo La Tengo), Chris Collingwood (Fountains of Wayne), Mark Spencer (Son Volt), and Greg Townson (Los Straitjackets) all appear on this record. There are also songwriting contributions by Tommy Dunbar (Rubinoos) & Kyle Vincent, Kim Shattuck & Lisa Marr, and Francis Macdonald (Teenage Fanclub). If that sounds like a pop lover's dream, well that's how I would describe this album in the first place. Musically it references everything from '60s girl groups to '70s bubblegum to kitchen sink indie pop to modern-day punky pop. It's pure pop music for fans of all ages and musical interests. God, I love this record! It's not easy to feel upbeat at the present moment. But I don't think it's possible to listen to Juniper's debut album and not smile. If you're dying to go to a happy place right now, let this take you there.



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