It took Milwaukee garage punk trio three releases to strike gold. Their debut album was ragged beyond belief and very much an acquired taste; its follow up, 2017’s ‘Stars In The Night’ took their hybrid of garage rock, punk and sleaze up a notch, and although it included a couple of far superior songs, it would still be a stretch to call it an essential listen. With 2018’s ‘Darkness Calling’, they finally released a disc that showed their true potential as heirs to the Johnny Thunders and New York Dolls legacies. Its blend of trashy riffs, big choruses and party attitude deserved to be appreciated by fans of a proto-punk sound everywhere.
Sticking with their ferocious turnaround of a release a year, 2019’s ‘Spiderbites’ is a step forward in quality yet again. Its ten songs draw very heavily from the Johnny Thunders school of grubby proto-punk and most of the performances really capture a raw energy that’s not only admirable but impressive. In just twenty nine minutes, Indonesian Junk deliver ten hook-laden numbers that, at every turn, sound as if they were created in the back rooms of that dive bars and at sleazy punk parties. It’s the kind of album that is driven by the kind of sloppy energy and talent that only four years previously, despite best intentions, seemed quite hidden from the world.
Lead single ‘Mean Christine’ presents Indonesian Junk at their most simple and direct. A chunky riff drives a loud slab of garage rock and while the chorus hook sounds like something that could lapse into an old Kiss hit at the drop of a hat. The overriding mood is one of grubby bar-room rock with a vaguely punk-ish edge. For fans of the band’s previous work, Daniel James’s sleazy vocal drawl will be instantly recognisable, but his insistence on pushing a riff a little harder shows more confidence in the music this time out, which is very much a step forward. This is one of the band’s most instantly catchy numbers to date and combined with the rough and ready power pop of ‘City Lights’ gives the album a terrific one-two punch to lead things off. ‘City Lights’ is great, in that it fuses Indonesian Junk’s older no-frills sound with a fantastic verse full of muted guitar parts that show a love of Cheap Trick, a couple of new wave bands and other things beyond the usual David Johansson/Johnny Thunders obsessions. It’s everything the previous release hinted at and more, and with the natural sound of the production really bringing out the edge in Daniel’s guitar work, it’s a great listen.
An instant classic, ‘Wild, Wild Party’ taps into the Junk’s “have a good time, all the time” ethic in a huge way. Between a really sleazy vocal and guitar part that cranks out a ferocious lead riff worthy of all manner of 70s proto-punks, the band delivers the best trashy anthem this side of New York Dolls’ ‘Personality Crisis’. Factor in Mike Mattner’s drum kit being mastered really loudly and a decision to drop a sharp Chuck Berry-ish riff between each vocal line and it’s easily the band’s finest two minutes to date. The truly gutsy ‘Through The Night’ keeps up the quality by showing off the band’s speedier tendencies as they crank out a flawless punk ‘n’ roll banger where the gruffer edge to James’s voice very much results in another strong performance. While this track comes with the most simple and repetitious of chorus hook, it works to the song’s advantage, as by the third play, it’ll be hard to resist shouting along.
Elsewhere, ‘Headbanger’ offers more ferocious rock and roll. On the surface, it shows Indonesian Junk staying firmly within their comfort zone, but thanks to a gloriously trashy guitar solo and an overall vibe that feels like Johnny Thunders meeting ‘Hootenanny’ era Replacements, fans of the style will find lots to enjoy. Not quite up to scratch, ‘When I Find You’ has a vocal that sounds unfinished and for this reason is the album’s only skipper, but even then, a tough guitar solo and a carefree attitude puts it a step ahead of what would’ve been Indonesian Junk’s best work three years previously. Thankfully, the it’s the album’s only real weak spot. With ‘Our Town’ fusing a tried and tested rock ‘n’ roll vibe with influences from horror punk/psychobilly via a few spooky reverbed guitars and a tribal drum on the chorus, there’s a sense that Indonesian Junk aren’t quite as set in their ways as some of this album makes them seem and another musical side step comes with ‘See The Light’ as the band experiment with straight bar room rock. Going full tilt into a world of swaggering riffs and “woo-hoo”s, seems very natural and in many ways the Junk often sounds as if they’re channelling label-mates Tom Baker & The Snakes. If you crave a much grittier rock ‘n’ roll sound this might seem sedate, but for fans of other bands within the Rum Bar stable it’s a track that could have a very strong appeal.
From such humble beginnings, Indonesian Junk have really matured in the four years leading up to ‘Spiderbites’. This fourth album could be a garage punk classic. Daniel James still has the kind of voice that could split opinion, but most of the tunes are tight enough and sweaty enough to carry this trio to glory. In short, ‘Spidebites’ is great. Just don’t judge it by the cover…