Military Junior is a rock outfit with a jones for odd time signatures and pedal effects. But the Pinellas trio's prog flourishes are mere decoration for a clutch of warm tunes that thoughtfully contemplate love won and lost.
The band's debut album, When You Get Lost on Those Brick Streets, earned Creative Loafing's Best of the Bay plaque for CD by a Local Band last year. The disc starts with back-to-back instrumentals that immediately make the listener take notice — taken as a single composition, they could almost pass for the build-up to a U2 ballad. Next, comes "Communication," one of the disc's most endearing cuts.
"Let's set aside our tears and tensions," starts the memorable chorus. The voice is mature, inviting and belongs to Jay Shultz, the band's guitarist, lyricist and lead singer. His words are deceptively simple — a relationship commentary brimming with honesty. The infectious melody throws just enough curveballs to keep things interesting.
"I want people to be intrigued by the music and think about it, but not so much that people can't move to it," says bassist Eric Glinsboeckel.
Military Junior has prompted some hip-shaking when performing locally — a rarity at area indie rock shows and especially for a band with proggy leanings. "Watching people dance in [7/4 time] is pretty cool," says Schultz. "It's personally gratifying to play this style of music; it's like pulling off a stunt. We do it for ourselves and hope the audience will catch on."
Shultz, Glinboeckel and drummer Bryce Munger spent the past decade playing in local bands such as Chalkpeople and Brainiacs Daughter before forming Military Junior in the summer of 2004. Amid shows, recording sessions and rehearsals, each member maintains a solid day job or is actively pursuing one. Glinsboeckel, 38, is an architect, and no one argues much when he offers to pick up the tab after an hour-long chat at the Independent in downtown St. Pete.
The other members are 10 years his junior. Schultz earns a living by building tables out of granite. Munger slings java at St. Pete's Globe Coffee Lounge when he's not studying to be a schoolteacher.
The Military Junior guys are kind of like their music: engaging and smart. On MySpace, Military Junior calls itself an "Alternative Rock band, sometimes also classified as Indie-math rock." The band's penchant for tricky time signatures might impress enthusiasts of chops rock, but it often leaves groove rock fans shaking their heads in frustration.
The 4/4 beat, the foundation of rock 'n' roll, bypasses the brain and goes straight to the ass, making for an easy sell across the board. Math rock, on the other hand, challenges the listener at each unexpected turn, and the complicated arrangements have a tendency to squelch the heart of the song, making it sound like an algebra equation set to music.
Military Junior is acutely aware of the tightrope prog-rock practitioners walk while messing with meter and indulging in angular dissonance. When the trio entered Berkley Park Studios in Atlanta in 2005 to cut Those Brick Streets, they put a premium on executing bold tempo changes and defying rock conventions. But they were also dead set on retaining the soul of each song.
"You run a filter," explains Schultz. "You keep that filter going in your head, letting the music in, and once it starts to deviate from that sort of true kind of feeling, you just exit and keep moving on to the next thing until you get it right."
Glinsboeckel and Munger nod in agreement. That "filter" is the linchpin of the band's success. Countless groups have aspired to King Crimson greatness only to fall on their own swords in pursuit of those heady sounds — but that's not the case with these guys.
Key tracks from Miltary Junior's full-length debut include the brooding rocker "Anodyne," (not an Uncle Tupelo cover), the band's most downloaded MySpace track, and "Communication." These are the two songs that most deftly balance mass-appeal tunesmanship with precision playing. The latter is enjoying heavy rotation clear across the country at the venerable KEXP-FM in Seattle.
"They just sent the CD to us; it was just something that popped up," said KEXP DJ Cheryl Waters. "I haven't got any specific responses from listeners, but I like them and so do others at the station."
Although all three members are anchored to their careers and are by no means starving musicians, an indie record deal and the opportunity to tour the country in a cramped van and play far-reaching cities like Seattle remains a goal.
"Isn't that every musician's dream?" Glinsboeckel asks.