Homeless J, for better or worse, can probably impart that advice more wisely than just about anybody in the region: stuck on the short end of two promising major label deals that imploded on the eve of releases, homeless J could have faded ignobly into the blur of bitter, disintegrating bands who have been wronged. But lucky for us, their new release, The Squeeze, brims with a fire and creative pulse that only verifies where homeless J’s collective heart lies: in the joy of making music. The word “cathartic” pops up in the band’s bio, and it alone just might describe The Squeeze better than any long-winded review could.
If you haven’t had the pleasure of hearing or seeing homeless J in action, here’s an incredibly unfair, non-comprehensive encapsulation: U2 and the Cure throw down with Radiohead, only to take a breather now and then to take in a chess match between Depeche Mode and The National. Vocalist Chad Van Meter somehow simultaneously channels Bono’s Boy- and modern-era vibe, but never sinks into mimickry. If you see the band live, Van Meter’s presence is barely contained by the stage. It extends to this record, too. The disc’s closer, the alternately ethereal and wailing “Dividing Lines,” swims in chiming, arpeggiated guitars, while Van Meter’s vocals plead, whisper, push and pull against the tides of the song. The album is full of cool instrumental textures that alternate between airy and rock solid, and, in addition to bolstering Van Meter’s commanding vox, these tones sit atop a pumping rhythm section that completes the package convincingly. Label schmable. These guys are doing it for the right reasons, and doing it well.
Though the short instrumental opener, “Intro,” might make you think you’ve stuck Kid A in your CD player by mistake, it quickly segues into some signature homeless J tuneage. “What I Want” builds on a thunderous riff before opening up into a heartfelt verse and a chorus that can only be described as “arena-worthy.” It’s hard not to be lifted by this song. The dizzy, new-wave-y guitars on “Flipside” give way to a driving rock tune that’s given added momentum by soaring vocals. A rolling bassline on “The Earth is Not My Home” underpins a dark, minor-key climate, only enhanced by the spare stabs of cranky guitars. It adds variety to this disc, as does the spunky “Million Miles,” which comes close to capturing the early 80s postpunk magic that propelled U2 onto college playlists everywhere. It’s not so much the actual tune but the feeling and desperate energy of the song that gets under your skin.
The Squeeze benefits from clear production, with a hint of playful sonic experimentalism around the edges. Guitarists Brad Amstutz and Matt Minnick conjure an incredible range of sonics that veer from modern rock crunch to pure atmosphere, often within the same ear space. Jon Hill’s bass is inventive, but always in the pocket with the tight drumming of Dan Willig. This is a band that’s obviously on top of its game, and – major label or no – homeless J continue to pour themselves into their music. That’s success in my book. www.homelessj.com.