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Joy - Shallows

Shallows is a collection of fourteen songs spanning a recording process of seventeen years. These songs are raw and intimate; some are merely a minute long, and many of them were recorded “on tape recorder, cassette 4-track, digital 24-track, cell phone and laptop.”

My initial reaction to the album was noticing a sharp resemblance to Nick Drake. Joy’s singer, elusively credited as either “DM” or “MS,” has a breathy earthiness in their voice which matched the stripped-down quality of the songs perfectly. The fingerpicked acoustic guitars, simple vocal melodies, and unusual time signatures (one song is even in 7, which to date I’ve never heard in this kind of music) support this connotation.

Lyrically, Joy is introspective and uses gorgeous imagery: “When I kiss you in the summer/ Seagulls howl and whirl in our mouths/Our mouths have wings of their own.” Occasional mis-stresses and unusual vocal delivery render some lyrics unintelligible, which is a shame, because they’re fucking good.

My comparison to Nick Drake doesn’t quite cover it. Instrumentally, this album is much more fleshed out than the typical Drake song. Drums, piano, synth, random ambient noise, banjos, vocal harmony, double tracked vocals, electric guitar, and even trumpets make appearances throughout the album, and I found myself constantly surprised at the instrumental layering in each song. Even with the length of the fourteen-song album, I never got bored. Joy kept me guessing by introducing new instruments, and I smiled very widely at the first appearance of the trumpets in “Defiance.” DM is an impressive guitarist, whose technical skill shone through on every fingerpicking song. I caught traces of Modest Mouse, Shakey Graves, and even Pearl Jam while listening.

I called this “a collection of fourteen songs” instead of “an album” for a reason; Shallows has a palpable lack of cohesiveness, and the choppiness of the varying recording styles and song lengths was often confusing and occasionally unappealing. I wonder if the time it took to make this collection could be blamed for that. I think it’s probably less a Chinese Democracy kind of twenty-years-to-find-the-right-guitar-effect thing as much as simply a benchmark cataloguing of Joy’s songs.

My favourite song is the final one, “Sea Life,” which is coincidentally the only song recorded in a studio. The vocals and guitars are much clearer, which highlights everything I love about these songs: the intricately written lyrics, emotional singing, the interesting instrumentation, and the technical proficiency of each musician. In this song, guest vocalist Megan Williams adds lovely harmony, and guitarist Ariel Rabinovic fits incredibly well. Joy, hire Ariel permanently. His playing in this song is tasty as hell.

Something about this album is extremely evocative, and I haven’t figured out what it is, but I love it. There’s something in the ambience which reminded me of the parts of Boston I love: Allston’s charming shittiness, “The Stars Over Somerville,” the strange electric chill you see if you walk around Comm Ave at night… This is my first review for Music Box Pete and I feel very grateful that it ended up being for this album.

Shallows is essentially fascinating. It’s unlike anything I’ve heard in a long time, and bursts at its seams with creativity. It’s a weird, fun, eclectic collection of songs that made me nostalgic for the city I love. I’m going to listen to this album a lot over the next few weeks. You should too. Go to Joy’s Bandcamp right here and look at the lyrics while you listen.

Score: 4/5

Track Listing:

1. Distortion

2. Oh, Emily

3. Big Valley

4. Three, At Least

5. Seeing Skulls

6. The Stars Over Somerville

7. Defiance

8. Bold Love

9. Our Shadows Anchor Us To The Earth

10. Seawater Kisse

11. Untitled 4

12. Reef & Wreck

13. Swum

14. Sea Life

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