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Music Review: The Juliana Theory: Deadbeat Sweetheartbeat

Dawn Xiana Moon, originally published on RelevantMagazine.com

I was a fan of The Juliana Theory back in the days of Understand This is a Dream when the band would play small clubs and have to pay to park their van in the venue's lot, back when you could email singer Brett Detar with crazy requests to make your then-boyfriend's birthday special by sending a signed card and between him and guitarist Joshua Kosker, they would (I definitely won the "cool girlfriend" award that year). And I'll admit it: with the release of the Music from Another Room EP (Tooth and Nail) and the subsequent Love from Epic Records, I lost interest in the band. Maybe it was due to a brand of musical snobbery toward major labels, maybe it was reports that TJT was getting progressively more arrogant, maybe it was disinterest in all the overdubs or a combination of all three, I can't say for sure. But my faith in one of the original emo bands has been restored; Deadbeat Sweetheartbeat, for all that its title feels self-consciously artistic, is a strong piece of work that will probably be spinning in my CD player for years.

The album launches with "This is a Lovesong… For the Loveless," a title that recalls the opening track to "Dream," "This is Not a Love Song." It's not the first time that TJT's titles have referenced older work - take "Understand the Dream is Over" from Emotion is Dead in comparison to the name of their first record. But allusions aside, "Lovesong" is just good rock, an explosive, radio-friendly anthem built around a dynamic guitar riff. "Final Song" and "We Make the Road by Walking" sound like vintage TJT, especially with the melody found in latter's ever-present guitar line. Detar's vocals also show impressive versatility, from punk in "10,000 Questions" to crooning in "Leave Like a Ghost (Drive Away)" to screaming in "French Kiss Off," a song beckoning to Detar's roots with the hardcore group Zao. (Incidentally, Daniel Weyandt of Zao makes a guest appearance on "This Valentine Ain't No Saint.")

Overall, the album is a return to a grittier way of making music - the band recorded many of the tracks live in the studio, and it shows. This is a raw record, one with the energy of TJT's live show, and the overdubs and effects experimentation that dominated their recent work are scarce to be found. The result is catchy pop-punk that sounds like Emotion is Dead, yet simultaneously angrier and more mature. While the lyrics, which are sometimes beautiful ("I'm hanging like a spider in suspended time and space"), though rarely profound, tend toward farewells, these are of the "goodbye and good riddance" variety rather than emotional drama. Though they only cover relationships and places explicitly in their farewells, one can't help but wonder if the album is also a statement directed at record companies; this their first release on Paper Fist, their newly-formed label.

Currently, Deadbeat Sweetheartbeat comes as a limited edition CD with a DVD featuring four bonus tracks, Detar's liner notes, and various behind-the-scenes footage. The 25-minute "Making the Album" documentary goes on about 10 minutes too long, but its presence at all is worth a few bonus points. There's also an interview with Detar telling stories about the ghost of Jeff Porcaro, the drummer for Toto who built the studio TJT recorded in - I actually took Detar's challenge and Googled the "true story," but alas, no verification was to be found.

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