What Goes Up 

Duck and cower from the Last of the Juanitas

The wind is picking up outside. Looking into the alley out back, the first gusts have caught a ream of outsized paper out in the open, stripping sheets one by one off the top and tossing them up in the air in an angry dervish. It’s not really paper, though—it looks like tin sheeting that someone was going to use for their roof. And that wind, well—now it looks more like a blast of some kind. Uh oh. Wonder where that’s going to come down. And listening to Last of the Juanitas, I’m reminded of something my high school band director always used to talk about: liquid razor blades.

Portland’s Last of the Juanitas don’t just say it, they spray it: a snorting blast of sharp objects straight up in the air. Better get out from under it.

Stylewise, the band—drummer Johnny Schier, guitarist Maurice Giles and bassist Lana Rebel—fall somewhere between math metal and good ol’ rock. Or rather would, if either distinction had much validity left in it. Like most bands, Last of the Juanitas take only what they need and leave the rest black and smoking by the last off-ramp. And what they take isn’t enough to kill either comparison outright—only to slowly bleed each one dry over the course of two inflammable long-players and a handful of singles.

It’s tough to get a feel for the average Last of the Juanitas song because there isn’t such a thing. There are pounding, top-heavy lock-groove rhythms in stumbling time signatures, incisive guitar parts wrapped around abusive bass skulking and howling sheets of noise, and there is a general absence of vocals. Except where there are vocals, and then they’re mantras of five and six words barked by a gruff Southern-rock drill sergeant, for example on “Devil Psi.”

So forget getting a fix on Last of the Juanitas through the lyrics, either. You could try the song titles—absurdist scraps, humorous attempts to vocabularize those largely absent lyrics that couldn’t do justice to the titles anyway. Unless you really think a song about a thaumaturgical moose or voices in my spacesuit could possibly live up to the shrugging insistence that yes, such things could be because hey, we thought of them.

Rock music has never meant (def. 1) less than it does right now. That’s why right now it means (def. 2) more than it ever has. Last of the Juanitas climb inside the rusting shell of overcalculated math metal and get it running again with duct tape and a Swiss army knife. Belching fumes and lurching forward, it sounds like it’s going to blow up at any minute. And when it does, hunker down. Those pieces have to land somewhere.

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