Junk Culture – Summer Friends
[Illegal Art, 2011]
Jeff Pearson, February 2, 2011
Originally published by Life’s Sweet Breath
Listen: “Weird Teenage Vibes”
Deepak Mantena, the human form of the artistic entity known as Junk Culture, has been meticulously collecting sounds on his handheld recorder for years. The music that has come under the Junk Culture moniker is characterized by rapid-fire sampling prowess and psychedelic undertones, resulting in punchy, danceable beats. With his first record, West Coast, listeners were pulled out of their seats and guided through an experience somewhat resembling a walk through a dark hall, with windows lining the walls, a different Technicolor dreamscape visible through each. As we were rushed through the hall, Mantena allowed only a glimpse through each window before yanking us on to briefly peer out the next. West Coast itself acted as a window into the psyche of Mantena, giving listeners a glimpse of what he is capable of.
Two years after the release of West Coast comes Junk Culture’s second offering, Summer Friends. Clocking in at just over fifteen minutes, Summer Friends is yet another brief glimpse beyond Mantena’s kaleidoscopic eyes into a world of musical possibilities. The tracks occupying the record are much more traditional in terms of structure, straying from West Coast’s instrumental, free nature and reaching into actual “song” territory. Mantena is also able to capture the spirit of a live Junk Culture show, with vocals featured in each track, multiple voices layered and bouncing off of one another.
The record starts off with the title track and lead single, “Summer Friends”. The track sets the mood of the record, with bright chirps tickling a crevasse deep within the listener’s brain, as is the norm for Junk Culture, and introduces Mantena’s youthful and exuberant rasp. The pulse of the track is unwavering and simple, which gives way to the tribal and dense textures of “Honeysuckle”. “Honeysuckle” jackhammers along as bouncy synthesizers twist their way around the percussion. Mantena finds his stride in “Weird Teenage Vibes”, an infectious song about growing to be a man over the course of an awkward teen-aged romantic evening. Sharp percussion and mellow melodic lines make for a striking contrast as Mantena sings “If that’s the girl you want, you lock that down/Be a grown-up and take what you want/Jay, jay, blue jay, you don’t work the way I want/Well that’s when I find my guts.” The lyrics come across as an older, wiser Mantena reflectively looking back on his younger self, advising him to take hold of his own destiny.
“Golden Girl” dreamily bounces along the clouds, driven by a pronounced and fuzzy bass line. Mantena creates a colorful interplay of sounds which again clash with the thick bass to create a uniquely textured dynamic. “Cozy Only” allows Mantena to wear his hip-hop pride on his sleeve, though the track is anything but conventional. The lyrical content keeps with the theme of the record, with Mantena reflecting upon relationships in the most down-to-earth terms possible. The record closer, “Blissed Out” shows the more schizophrenic nature of Junk Culture, with a section of skittering and technical percussion and noisy sampling bursting into a serene and simple groove to end the record. This foil serves as the major theme of the record, the clash of the frenetic and the calm, the storm and the clear sky.
This theme, combined with the dreamlike quality of the instrumentation, puts strong visual associations of conflict in the listener’s head. One can almost picture Mantena peering into Kirby’s Dream Land and providing the sonic accompaniment to the struggle of the hero as he floats his way to defeating Kind Dedede. Rarely does an artist trigger something so strong in our minds that the music is so vividly represented visually. Deepak Mantena must play a lot of Kirby.