REVIEW: Prostitution Street by Jesus Junior

By David Z. Cox

April 4, 2015

Charlotte’s local scene, thriving more than it gets credit for, is great in that the musicians it comprises of are versatile and varied in their output. It seems rare lately to meet a performer who is only in one band or doesn’t have a solo project or two in the works. With so many prolific artists around there’s a constant stream of good material coming out, much of it intertwining and offering recognizable threads for fans to grab onto. And that’s good news for pretty much everyone, except maybe the graphic designers who have to fit all the “featuring members of…” text on show flyers.

One of the recent albums to drop from a Queen City stalwart is Jesus Junior’s debut EP Prostitution Street, released on March 3. You probably know the face behind the moniker, Grant Harding, from his work in anthemic indie rock acts Campbell the Band and Flagship. But Harding is getting darker with his new music, from this solo record to his work with the avant-garde collective Deep Sex Death Place.

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With Prostitution Street, Harding has created a creep-rock journey that takes listeners to some weird places, but never veers so far as to lose them. Probably the most recognizable aspect of this new project is the distinct vocal style, as it is a bold move for Harding. In his previous work with bands and solo endeavors, it’s clear he has the pipes to sing in a more traditional, clean manner. But here he layers distorted, almost spoken-word style voicings to enforce the murky vibe. While he does crescendo into some larger notes, it’s never without at least a hint of rasp or a pitched-down, eerie tier below the lead. While it may take a few listens for some to get into it, Harding’s voice somehow works its way into your brain and becomes beautiful and strangely catchy.

The album kicks off with the tone-setting title track, a haunting mix of atmospheric guitars and melodies meandering over subtly steady grooves. Pulling no punches, the signature vox are most evident right from the start. If R.L. Stine made a new Goosebumps TV series for the adults who used to watch as kids, this could be the theme song. In fact, the eerie video could serve as the title sequence with its shades of late ’80s horror flicks like Pumpkinhead and its foggy effects.

The second track, “What’s the Difference,” follows suit and is accompanied by a spooky video of its own. It also offers glimpses of poignant relatability for Harding’s 20-something peers. Explaining the “soundtrack” genre tag on Jesus Junior’s Bandcamp page, the song positions itself as the score to life as a young artist in Charlotte. Lyrics like “I wish I had some money to spend on myself” really resonate for those of us trying to make ends meet so we can afford to do whatever it is that makes us happiest. And Harding gives shoutouts to Queen City landmarks like the bridge on Matheson, the setting for the line “I saw the city screaming the same scream I wish I could scream at you,” sung half through his teeth.

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Continuing the dark anthem theme is “Decent 9 to 5,” an examination of the struggles of the proverbial starving artist. Moving towards the second half, the album takes a slightly more traditional approach. Harding shows off his vocal range a bit and introduces an almost jangly, bassline-driven beat, backed by crowd vocals ready to be sung back to him should he take Jesus Junior to a live setting.

“Remind Me of Myself” starts with shades of electro-pop mixed with Local Natives-esque percussion that favors hand-claps and rims over the cymbals of earlier tracks. The song is oddly cheerful, punctuated by the bassline, only appearing sporadically but tingeing the song with a little funk and gravity. Further inching towards the sounds of his previous work Harding comes in with more singalong ready vocal stabs, though still inflected with a gravelly tone.

Listening to the final two tracks, “God Save You” and “Foolishness,” Prostitution Street begins to takes shape fully as the six tracks make up a linear migration. The signature haunting atmosphere is certainly present throughout, but it shifts as the album drives forward. The creep factor is in-your-face for the first two tracks, then transitions into sort of a nightmare version of dream-pop in the middle section, softening into pseudo-ballads to let the listener down easy. “God Save You” bases itself around a familiar-sounding piano riff, with an off-kilter string arrangement filtering in and panning across the song’s landscape in the distance. The final track has a similar vibe but is more guitar-driven with an acoustic leading the way, backed by delay-laden electrics adding ambience.

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I ran into Harding recently at the Fuel Pizza in Plaza Midwood, and we spoke briefly about his album. He explained a bit about the recording process, saying it took almost a year due to having to borrow various equipment and put it all together himself. But that time paid off, as the sound quality on Prostitution Street belies its DIY production. It would have been easier to cut corners and make a lesser album, but Harding took the high road, and the stirring fullness of the record comes across much better than if he had not.

On the whole, Jesus Junior, while not as easily accessible as say, Flagship, is an endlessly intriguing project. Each listen of the debut EP yields intricacies and garners new responses from the audience, making it anything but a one-and-done type of spin. You can buy the EP for seven bucks on Bandcamp here. Although no live shows are set for Jesus Junior, be sure to keep an out for all of Harding’s projects. And if you stop in at Neighborhood Theatre on the right night, he might even pour you a drink.

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