Toronto, and really Southern Ontario for that matter, isn't really a place known for their pop-punk. When I think of prominent names in the genre all I can think of is Marilyn’s Vitamins, and they haven’t been a band for over a decade (plus, that name probably isn't even notable to anyone outside of the region). With Idle Ages, I think Junior Battles are seriously going to change that. Gonna get boys on the street saying their name on some "my friend thinks you’re cute" type shit. See, when I first heard Junior Battles I made comparisons with Alkaline Trio, but to be quite honest the only thing about them that reminds me of that band is how vocal centric J-Bats are. The vocal melodies and harmonies dispensed by Sam and Aaron are smarter than your average bear. They are catchy and memorable, but you won’t be able to just go “oh that sounds like [insert whatever lame band you are listening to]” and explain away your love or hate. That is because, try as you might, Junior Battles don’t sound like that band; they just don’t.
To say that Idle Ages completely focuses on the vocals and the rest is just background music would be to throw the baby out with the bathwater you also just pooped in. They are a pop-punk band, but that doesn't mean they simply play the same selection of three or four chords that change at the exact same measure every song like clockwork. In the first 45 seconds of album opener “Seventeen” alone, there are 10 or so different little changes to what is going on musically, but it still has those pop hooks that really dig you in. And the whole album is like that. “With Honours” manages to combine a lazy country shuffle with an uncharacteristic heaviness and a more typical bouncy bassline that somehow all works. “Seventeen” has some serious “whoa-oh"s, and even though those have become pretty standard for the genre, the arrangement of backup vocalization is another highlight of the album. Not just an exercise of how many friends you can fit on on your record, it almost always adds in some significant way to the song. One such moment of vocal pizzazziness™ is the Damian Abraham of Fucked Up’s classic growl showing up on “Ever Get the Feeling You Are Being Cheated?”, which just adds to the feelings of desperation. Some piano and seriously sexy saxophone also join the party to help round out that song, adding a bit of depth and polish to the grizzle that Pink Eyes brings. Actually, it is very similar to the contrast Abraham's own gig often employs to great effect.
There seems to be an overarching theme of distances on Idle Ages, be it temporal or physical (see: “Twenty Five”, “Nostalgic at 23”, “Passing Out”, “Architecture”, etc.). The band explored these things on their previous two EPs, but the space of a full-length gives them a proper canvas and the means to convey it all. There is a certain confusion and frustration of finding yourself growing up in the punk scene in relation to the rest of the world and the changing faces of that scene and you yourself. I think the songs resonate a lot more than love songs or overtly political songs, because those things tend to lose context a lot faster, which is probably why the feelings presented here seem sharper. The transitions in the relationships Idle Ages explores are gradual and somehow more surprising because you don’t notice them at all until things are already changed.
I've listened to the album over and over looking for something to bitch about but I just can’t seem to find anything significant. The only obvious thing is that with only 12 songs I wish they hadn't put “Passing Out” on the album as it has already been released on their split O Pioneers!!!. It is still a great song, though, and they made it fit with the sound and flow of the record amazingly well. Somehow, J-Bats have still found themselves to be a polarizing band, but I don’t see how anyone who likes good pop songs with distortion wouldn't like this. Is this a classic? Only time will tell, but I wouldn't be at all surprised to find this at the top of many pops this year.