2016 was a rough year. I say that in a large sense, but it was also a very difficult time in my personal life. It was the year of greatest turmoil, loss, and tears by a long shot; I started 2017 feeling more isolated than I’ve ever been.
I regained some hope a few days ago upon the release of Don’t Breathe In Through Your Mouth, the debut album by southern Oregon garage-pop band The Juniper Berries. Though cliché to say, this sub-30-minute, nine-track record is going to be on repeat as a kind of therapy for me. The lyrics aren’t too complicated, and the recording sounds like it was done in a bedroom, (which I believe it was,) keeping everything simple and very humble.
The popular music charts are filled with single-based tracks written by millionaire producers and recorded on the most high-quality (and expensive) equipment available––the “indie music argument” says there is no soul in all that, but too many “indie” bands have succumbed to the market in the past decade, defeating the point of being independent. Even small bands can be guilty of this, leaving them sounding typical and mediocre.
The strength of The Juniper Berries actually lies in their embracing of what they could afford. Don’t Breathe In Through Your Mouth uses its lo-fi aesthetic to put you in a bedroom decked out in posters of Elliott Smith and David Bowie, at a live performance in somebody’s cramped garage, and on a front porch with the taste of cheap beer and half-smoked cigarettes in your mouth. In short, it feels real.
Frontman Joshua Stirm described the album as being the result of “shaky willpower and emotional distress”, with the project spanning the entirety of this last year, both beginning and ending in the cold somberness of winter. Don’t Breathe In Through Your Mouth remained Stirm’s constant through several break-ups, moves, and lineup changes; every song reflects on his experiences either directly or metaphorically. The overall tone is a mix of melancholy and hopefulness, stemming from some nostalgia and good memories. Stirm really bleeds his emotions into this album… I felt I learned a great deal about him as a person in every line, every verse. Don’t Breathe In Through Your Mouth is like a one-on-one conversation.
The Junies’ influences are very apparent in their musical style––Elliott Smith and David Bowie absolutely. The lead guitar and piano give off a vibe reminiscent of something you’d hear in rock of the late ‘60s or early ‘70s, which is neatly paired with the lo-fi aesthetic. (I personally was feeling some White Album-era Beatles vibes in this album too, but maybe that’s just me.) While I love the album altogether, my favorite tracks are the more upbeat “Opposable Thumbs” and the powerful mini-ballad of “Magnetic North”. The album’s conclusion in the acoustic “Untitled (sweet complicated dreams)” finishes with a deep sigh and the closing of a door, fitting the theme of the long, difficult year in which this album was written and recorded.
The Juniper Berries brought forth so much honesty and sincerity with this one. Humble and down-to-earth, the album presents stories of sorrow and optimism. The emotions are raw and tangible; it’s relatable and affirming that none of us are truly alone in our struggles. I look forward to seeing where the band will tread next, and I’ll be listening to this over and over for a long time.