March 27, 2003

Joy "joy"

If you're a folk musician, I'm sure getting tagged as "Nick Drake" is a real pain in the ass. I mean, come on, there's more to life than him now, and there's a tendency to get overrated. It's kind of dismissive. Problematic, though, is that sometimes tags and labels are apt. Sometimes people do sound like others, and I don't believe that some people can't/won't admit to it. It's okay to be influenced; it's not so okay, though, when the influences are forced upon an artist due to circumstances out of their control. See, there's this tenious little relationship between band and label, Shrimper.

Yes, like the other artists who have recorded for Shrimper, Joy is lo-fi. Yes, they're acoustic. Yes, they have some weird moments going on. But unlike 99.9% of artists who operate in this genre, Joy have magically concocted a sound all their own. At times, Joy makes me think of the old Lou Barlow lo-fi days, back before he scored a major hit record; back before when "next big thing" and success was a lure away from the 4-track. Instead of Sentridoh, though, Joy is a sound that's refreshing, new, and yet somehow quite familar.

Much should be made about the "embellished" nature of Joy. The duo of Matt Savage (vocals) and Daniel Madri (instruments) have been making music together for years, but this is their first recording as Joy, so they cannot be accused of the typical lo-fi amateurism. Instead of keeping the songs lo-fi, Joy took their record into a studio and tweaked it...adding odd noises, klinks, guitar solos and washes of sonic joy; in doing this, Madri and Savage created something that really stands out; you certainly don't think about the limited recording quality of the music.

Joy's lyrics are, in a word, odd. They distract your attention from the music, simply because you can't help but wonder what the HELL they are talking about. Sometimes the words are sweet, such as the pretty "Something"; sometimes, they're introspective, such as "The Trouble With Motivation," and then, sometimes they're just plain wrong. For instance, "Sex" is a winsome description that seems about as deep as a high schooler's attempts at deep poetry: "Calamity is only skin deep/How thick does she get?/I shoot panic when she jerks and sways/the unnerving gob/the squawk." Charming! I get the feeling, though, that there's a greater sadness underneath his really odd lyrics. Other songs, such as "Lump Of Eels," are best left to your own interpretation.

Joy is a very brief record that lasts less than a half hour. Sure, it will go by you rather quickly--but it won't leave you. The words will haunt you, stick with you, and will not let you go. At times, you'll listen to a song and think, "did he just say what I thought he said," and will go back again. Joy is haunting but not haunted; disturbing but not disturbed. It's a rather sublime journey that might easily be missed. Painfully shy singer singing twistedly absurd breakup songs and ballads about his fears, that grows and grows in your mind upon every listen. You might not be hooked the first time you listen to Joy, but are you brave enough to take that second listen?

--Joseph Kyle

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