Revisionist: Adaptations & Future Histories in the Time of Love and Survival, June of 44’s first release in 21 years, might be the most bipolar document you encounter in 2020. The record features at least two or three BRILLIANT re-workings of Anahata-era offerings; these tracks are some of the best stuff we have heard from June of 44 in a long time. Here, the band unleashes its rivers of sound in truly enviable fashion, aestheticizing meditativeness in a way they did like few other post-rock bands of the ‘90s. (Sorry, Bedhead.) But, for all the high marks, the record is also pockmarked, cigarette-butt-style, with a number of unfortunate lows: two remixes, interesting, yes, but disposable; an unnecessary reboot of an In the Fishtank session track; and a circa-’96 recording that does little to further the band’s narrative of ingenuity.
Reunion records are knotty affairs. In some instances, as is the case here, the band in question comes together for a handful of reunion shows and studio time simply becomes the next obvious step. The iconic nature of the gathering overshadows the instinct to edit—or perhaps to edit enough. But, say what you will about intentionality, there is little new about Revisionist and not even that much revisionist about it. The band does little to buttress—or, dare I say, rewrite —its legend and, though they might have had a blast playing live together again, some of the studio material sounds like an afterthought, a byproduct of a greater mission. We would have preferred a live record with all the requisite staples soundtracked with the roars of an enthralled, appreciative audience.
That, of course, is the critic speaking. The June of 44 fan—the kid who cut their milk teeth, say, on repeated listens of “Have a Safe Trip, Dear”—will devour this and rightly so. We have missed June of 44, its poetic ruminations and literary-mindedness increasingly at odds with the bludgeoning sound-bites and lie-soaked incoherencies of the era of Trump and his House of Whiteness. It feels GOOD to have these guys back on the stereo with a new record again, in some indescribably base and primordial way.
And it has been a long road. Even considering guitarist/singer Jeff Mueller and his work with Shipping News, a June of 44 band member hasn’t appeared to release a full-length LP in a decade. On Revisionist, God bless ‘em, though, they don’t feel dusty or uninspired. At their best (a brilliant “ReRecorded Syntax,” a mellow second glance at “Cardiac Atlas” that can feel riveting), they sound ready to tackle new missions—and let’s hope they do. But, sad for the fan all too willing to participate in the hero worship, there’s a lot of B-material here. The record starts, inexplicably, with a Matmos remix that is inventive but not all that memorable, and much the same could be said of John McEntire’s “A Past to Face” remix. (In short, this isn’t A Digest Compendium of the Tortoise’s World-level McEntire.)
“Generate,” off the In the Fishtank 6 session, sounds like a proper album track with great depth and dynamism but “Post-Modern Hereditary Dance Steps,” another Fishtank take reworked here, is loud and muddy, somewhat unnecessary. “No Escape, Levitate” is played well, and is even a good song, but the LP ends with “Paint Your Face,” which goes to significant lengths to make you question the intuitive dynamism of Four Great Points staple “Cut Your Face.”
The band has fired some preliminary missives about its self-described revisionist historiographies. “The session for Anahata was pretty tough; many of the songs felt underdeveloped,” Mueller told Rolling Stone recently. “Speaking for myself…it all just felt rushed and messy—I had very little grasp on how to organize and play my parts.” On the four or five worthwhile tracks on Revisionist, Mueller plays his parts well, sometimes really well, and sounds, for a man in his fifties, as engaged in the musical moment as he was 25 years ago. That speaks volumes, yes. But four or five good songs do not a successful reunion record make. — Justin Vellucci, Spectrum Culture, Aug. 11, 2020