Album Review: Today Junior by Today Junior

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Where feelings of concrete direction in life may be lacking, Today Junior drives it to California and back in their eponymous third studio album.

It’s been nine years since Today Junior released their first album, Ride the Surf — an exploration of growing up, nostalgia, and falling short of hopes, packaged nicely into a set of lively instrumentals and raw lyricism. Last year, the band’s release of their third album, Today Junior, proved to listeners that it’s tough to grow out of the trials of young adulthood. The rock group’s 2023 record exposes the pain of heartbreak and the struggle to find purpose alongside the group’s energized vibe — an invigorating juxtaposition of nihilist experience and danceable bop.

While recording in Allston, Harry O’Toole (guitar/lead vocals) was joined by fellow Today Junior member Mike O’Toole on drums/percussion and backing vocals, while bassist Hannah Blauner sat this recording out (although currently performs and tours with the band). The talents of bassist Anthony Ambrose and drummer Zack Petti backed the O’Toole brothers in this well-produced album, and brought a lot of vitality to Ambrose and the O’Toole brothers’ raw and emotional lyrics. Throughout the record, the instrumentals drove lyrics that some artists would have placed with much more lyrical compositions; O’Toole and Petti’s intensity on percussion paired with Ambrose’s liberally active bass lines gave this album a beautifully unique vigor.

There aren’t too many “todays” in “Today Junior,” which instead pendulums between temporalities and emotions throughout the entire record. Google Maps routes us to the first track, “In Massachusetts,” which feels like a pained elegy to a Bostonian memory: “I’m stuck at a red light / Down by the Fenway / 20 past midnight / Headed back to your place.” But we’re soon brought into the atemporality of being lost in thought in “Forever Lost” and of spiraling out in “Sweet Little Nothings” and in “Second Guessing.” These three tracks speak well to non-specific anxieties and attachments conceived in the life of a twenty-something — whether that be fearing disloyalty in a romantic relationship, or the pain of getting lost in the crowd of a generation. But again, they’re also dance bops. 

Hot Plastic,” brings rage into aimlessness with the hard-hitting chorus, “So come on let’s get lost / We’ve got no expectations / There’s not much that I want / These days just ain’t the same.” Swinging the grief from anger to textbook depression and bargaining, “See You Again,” strikes us straight into the past from the get-go: “On a trip to yesterday / Going backwards in my brain … How did I get this way?” Both tracks are contemplative, adrift, and perfectly on-theme. 

Soon enough, the pendulum swings past the yesterdays and into the tomorrows with “Brain Fog” and “Lost in Reality.” These two tracks both riff on some romantic hypotheticals and conversation fantasies, until we reach slightly more conviction in “Running Over 2 U,” where we hear our seemingly helpless romantic’s pained words: “In this boring town / I’ve been going round / Looking for someone / To get lost like me.” This track best highlights O’Toole’s sincere vocals, which have rough enough edges to convey his pain and frustrations, but a resonant enough core to flow seamlessly with his band’s instrumentals. The record wraps up with “Shit!”, “Let It Go,” and “Where Will We Wander,” which tie a bow on grief. These tracks look ahead to some tomorrows through acceptance, but keep some questions open and feelings of aimlessness alive. 

“Today Junior” is a road trip; the album is expertly bookended by obvious themes of Massachusetts and California, and weaves together sounds pulled straight from both New England emo and Cali surf rock. Had the Beach Boys been a bit more depressed and a bit more Gen Z, they would have been blasting this record down Route 66. Good vibrations, all around.

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