Creating a sense of emotions as strong as regret, reflection, and raw vulnerability can be is one of the great tasks that all acts face when trying to record something meaningful, and in their new single “Dirt Roads,” Atomic Junkshot manages to do as much whilst remaining relatively simple in their approach. From the moment that the harmonies connect with the gentle rhythm of the music in this piece, we know we’re in for something special in this live cut of the song. Between the energy of the players and the spirit of the material itself, the investment of the artists in their art form is next to impossible not to notice, whether you’ve got an ear for the more refined sounds in indie Americana or not.
Although it’s been said by a lot of different critics that the wave of alternative pastoral songcraft in the 2020s has been devoid of a center, this isn’t a performance that relies on its cosmetic scheme exclusively. On the contrary, the substance of these lyrics is only enhanced by the aesthetics of the instrumentation, reminding me more of the post-paisley underground than anything Atomic Junkshot’s contemporaries have been doing as of late. there is something pretty retro about the way they’re getting to the hook here, and yet I’m quite hesitant to call any part of their framework steeped in old-school cues. The approach is as classic as it gets, but what counts for something in “Dirt Roads” – the music – is exclusive and original in every department.
Say what you will about the sentimentality of the mainstream in 2023, but this is a band that has a lot of emotional ground to cover, and they make a point of doing so with what feels like one of the most brooding melodic undertows of any new single I’ve heard in the past month here. In the moments that follow the first climactic push of the chorus, it feels like everything is about to fall apart, but somehow the players keep everything together with a continuity that is both frank and yet not missing any of the gusto I’ve come to expect out of any good live performance. The magic of this session isn’t hindered by production quality at all – instead, we’re getting excellent seats to a band’s fine stand in this track.
I was not following Atomic Junkshot before hearing about their new album and this subsequent single this February, but “Dirt Roads” is the right song to turn commonplace critics like myself into genuine fans. I’ve got a feeling that even this clandestinely epic performance on stage is just a hint of what their actual concerts probably sound like and induce within the audience lucky enough to see it for themselves, and while their profile is still very much on the underground side of the dial, there’s enough in their drive to convince me that good things are on their way both in the studio and on the horizon for their future output.