March 13, 2020 Joywave – Possession (Album Review)
Joining together undeniably delicious synths, infectious dancefloor grooves, euphoric hooks, jaunty wit, and a surprising emotional depth, Joywave has spent much of the past decade holding an aural mirror to society. Formed in Rochester, New York, in 2010, the Indie Rock quartet has been on a steady upward trajectory since their very first day. Their studio debut, 2015’s How Do You Feel Now?, was followed by 2017’s Content, leading to tours with the eclectic likes of Brandon Flowers, Metric, Thirty Seconds To Mars, Bishop Briggs, and more. Earning themselves slots on esteemed festivals such as Lollapalooza, Firefly, Reading/Leeds, and Coachella, these New Yorkers have proven as popular as they are prolific.
With all of this beneath their belts, the members of Joywave—Vocalist Daniel Armbruster, Guitarist Joseph Morinelli, Keyboardist/Guitarist/Vocalist Benjamin Bailey, and Drummer Paul Brenner—are now set to deliver their epic third disc, Possession. It arrives Friday, March 13th, 2020, via Cultco/Hollywood Records.
Recorded and produced by Frontman Armbruster and mixed by Dan Grech-Marguerat (The Killers, Liam Gallagher), the 12-song Possession shows an awareness of the overwhelming, constant racket and chaos in our modern world. Taking this violent noise and crafting it into material for thought, Armbruster and co. explore the theme of possession (“Who owns who?”) as they encourage listeners to take ownership of their experiences, pause for reflection (and silence), and allow themselves to see the bigger picture.
Possession opens to Armbruster’s languid, saccharine sweet vocals flowing across a backdrop of delicately twinkling guitar strokes on “Like A Kennedy,” painting a luxurious veil of quietude that still rocks. In this, the band sonically play into the track’s lyrical theme of burnout and exhaustion, the dark side of our over-stimulating times. Next, they amp up the keys and weave a devilish groove for “Coming Apart,” as infectious as its predecessor, but in a completely energized fashion that contrasts the previous fatigue. Here, the poetic lyrics ask listeners to reflect on the pandemonium of society, what it is that affects them most, and to ask themselves if they are allowing that chaos to destroy them. (A millennial self-fulfilling prophecy, perhaps?)
A lofty etherealism floats across the surface of “Half Your Age,” a look at the massive dreams we delve into again and again, until we begin to doubt ourselves—more often than not due to a societal belief that is being impressed upon us. It’s a vicious cycle, one that leads Joywave into an important piece of the album’s thematic puzzle, “Obsession.” Slinking through the Stygian night to craft a superbly catchy tale of searching for distraction, this is the reminder that we all need our release.
Keys prance into the alluring “Blank Slate,” where thick bass carries a groove that anchors a coalescence of sultry vocals and musicality that begs you to start again. Then it just gets dirtier, musically speaking, for the thump of “F.E.A.R.,” flexing its sonic might as a Disco ball spins over your head, shining a light upon the need for taking risks. As if offering a deep, cleansing breath, Joywave then injects a bit of wit into the meandering “Funny Thing About Opinions.”
For “Who Owns Who?” the quartet dip down into a moodier vibe, one that offers instantly familiar instrumentation that provides for a lush moment. Next, apropos of its title, they amp it up for rocker “Blastoffff” before taking on album namesake, “Possession,” an offering that utilizes its instrumentation to tip-toe across your spine as Armbruster’s vocals get nostalgic and downfall into choruses that plead, “Am I a letdown?”
As they near their grand finale, the delicate pace of “No Shoulder” asks you to decide what you cannot live without. Take the journey through the starry abyss to ownership of yourself, and wonder if you are allowing shallow desires to consume you. It’s an elegant track that offers much more than surface value in its billowing layers, one that stands as an excellent representation of the material found throughout Possession. Though, ultimately, Joywave chooses to end by returning to that bass-anchored groove, now complemented by a lamenting guitar along with brass and woodwinds, as they pussyfoot through the sultry “Mr. Eastman.” Obviously named for George Eastman, another Rochester native, the album’s conclusion urges listeners to step out and be something different, something great, before it fades into a hush and they literally hit “rewind” so that you can start it all again.
A poetic look at the disordered frenzy that surrounds us and a push to find inner-peace, Possession is an album that sounds like a lush, desert oasis as it provides a self-reflective journey for each of its listeners. The takeaway is more than just good music or an enjoyable listen, but the urge to take back possession of our fates and live deliberately; to dampen the endless symphony of destruction and get back to ourselves. That is, if you wish to read deeper and weather the adventure. If not, Joywave’s Possession is just a really great record. For this, Cryptic Rock gives the album 4.5 of 5 stars.