Monday, 6 May 2013

No Joy - Wait To Pleasure


Bear with me on this, but I like the album cover. Yes, the artwork to No Joy's sophomore might resemble something you'd find in a contemporary gallery - most likely defined by its creator as perhaps a deep meaningful look into some societal, complex state of present day living (I made that up on the fly, by the way) - but it's interesting because of that very same reason. True, shoegaze albums aren't known for being crisp, clean, 100% transparent visuals, but they all attempt to convey a sort of synethesia-like exploration of sound as a visual. Wait To Pleasure might hold this cover more closely than other records of a similar field, but to balance it out, could this all a farce? Does the cover hold any relevance at all? Is this structure of staircases against a monotonous background and block-colour backing for decorative purpose? Or is this something new altogether? No Joy's debut held nowhere near enough mystery and inviting seduction as to its material, but it still succeeded in giving us what we were expecting without coming off as predictable or lacking personal identity. It gives me an even bigger thirst for answers on what the American-Canadian duo's follow-up actually stands up as. So as to make sure I won't be talking arty-farty speak any longer, one of the big question shoegaze bands certainly raise for us to ask and they to answer, is whether or not the formula can distill an equal amount of change while still holding onto their own individual sense of attraction and interest that got us here in the first place?

Well if single-letter opener E is anything to go by, No Joy's ambition certainly lies beyond the swirled ambiguity and reverb overlay of many an album before it. True, the track's thunderous clouding of guitars and crisp percussion does hit the listener, but it's the acuteness in tone and position that gives the song its momentous appeal. What starts as a fretful drone of guitars and blurred vocals, soon arises from the dirtied ash and into this monumental ear-busting relay of crunchy, shredded sonic textures. By the end of proceedings, there's little left to suggest this was anything but this cataclysmic-like avalanche of guitar noise, and while its directness can't be challenged, it isn't necessarily off-putting or even hindering the song's production quality. Hare Tarot Lies, by contrast, comes off a lot more melodic and apt for constructing itself, rather than dismantling or even self-destruction. But the meeting of bass guitar and concurrent electric chords meets nicely with vocals that are slightly more clearer in distinction. It's the spaciousness however - and further to that the musical scope - that sticks out the most. And given what came before it, it's quite interesting to find the duo go from blazing noise to something harmonic and...dare I say it...gesturally in touch with its surroundings.

That's not to say that No Joy's former leanings towards the more offensive execution doesn't provide as much intrigue. Follower Prodigy from the beginning, is far more atmospheric and colourful, even if the variety of hues don't waver from the initial wavelengths. And it's the slightly obscured vocals alongside the soaring choral-like harmonics that shatter through from above, that add even more more depth and visual character to the piece. Musically too, the duo's self-imposed palette of guitars - from the lofty strums of electric guitar to the warm pulse of bass neatly sitting underneath - give the upbeat rhythm its additional cause for immersion. But as noted, when the need for such delving isn't focused on the artistry and the somewhat painterly appliance of instrumental tone, No Joy's knack for melody and song-structure is just as fulfilling. Slug Night uses guitars instead to compose, as opposed to visualize. It's left to the vocals to give the song its part-oily, part-sprayed density of tone and sonic admiration. But while I don't necessarily feel the lyrical elements do as well to archetype as strong a visual in the song, the melody and structural gain of the track definitely succeeds in pulling me in. Even if the song remains contestly wavered through layer upon layer of reverb and feedback, the fact the band not only offer, but emphasize too, the note-composed guitar pieces definitely suggests the band show as much care for composition as they do post-production texture.

And that leads me onto the main reason why I feel this album holds itself as one of the finer shoegaze releases of the 2010s. The fact that there's as much coherence in the structure, as there is on the layering, leaves me convinced that No Joy aren't simply treating their ideas like blurred margins brimming full of effect with unnecessary filler. Blue Neck Riviera is perhaps the pinnacle song on this record that backs this claim up. The introduction of synthesizer beats may not be the driving force of this track, but it definitely gives the listener an initial suspicion that the record offers variety in genre as well as texture. It's the slightly awry and withdrawn hook that the lead guitar carries through, that adds something I never would have expected before coming to this record: humanity. The way the lead of strings and pristine crispness of synths paradoxically clash and gel at the same time, causes me to begin treating these sounds as if they're manifesting into figurative form. There's still some textural delving into the noisier aspects - guitar feedback and fuzzier statics definitely making themselves known, perhaps a little too much here - but even with this application, I can't help but treat this song as a purveyance of something; a scene, an individual, an emotional response. The fact that the simplicity of a lead guitar and a rumptuous synth beat can generate something so personal and prolonged, registers for me just how well No Joy achieve their goal of capturing a sense personality beneath their sound.

But as much as it has its strengths, perhaps then this is why I come to the second half of the record with a slight grimace and passiveness about what the duo hope to offer thereafter. The track Lizard Kids by no means equals the depth of engagement with one's emotions, of previous. And despite its rowdy and intense delivery, there's no real justification or even effort to add flair to the outburst of guitars. The fact then that the sounds don't really convey a sense of appreciation - and thus it ends up coming across more just a novice exercise than necessarily a reasonable offering in its own right - leaves me with a bitter taste and, unfortunately, hopeful wishing that I'll forget it soonafter. Lunar Phobia does fortunately attempt to reel my emotive interests back towards the music. Had the track followed on its preliminary course of provoking bass guitars and distanced layering however, I might have held this track with more favorable height than what I actually do. While I'm usually enthralled by such sound, the surprisingly-more heavy use of synthesizer beats doesn't really feel as well-placed, or even beneficial to the music's demographic range. More-so, the textural guitar work and emotive flare of previous, seems drained away and non-existent by the end.

In this respect, the duo's use of percussion ultimately pays off when it focuses less on the synthesized variety, and more on the actual polynomial tones and energy it delivers. The enticement and energy on the track Ignored Pets definitely adds a kind of momentous forward-thinking enticement, and that's by in large thanks to the mentality and the sheer drive the drums offer up. Even if the overall youthful flair of the song is emphasized more clearly by the vocal placement, there's no denying the percussion here is what gives the music that conviction to thrust itself towards the listener. Uhy Yuoi Yoi then, is a great way to end the album off. Not only does it epitomize the album's fulfillment as something both textural and composed, but there's a lingering sentiment present that leaves the listener questioning where the band go next. Not that that's something no other listener asks when reaching the end of any album. But the way the song's rhythmic guitars and flowing vocals work together, suggests even more as to the level of confidence and assurance the duo have into closing their sophomore. Here, a track that isn't necessarily the most rowdy or memorable - on both a tonal and substance level - succeeds for this very reason. It's the slightly less extroverted and ambiguous direction the final three minutes detail, that may not attract its listener initially, but eventually it paints the potential emotion and humane artifice of these ideas in a way we may not have been able to recognize or even imagine had this been a clearer sound. For this very reason, there's an overwhelming feeling of possibility and niggling away from beneath the effects. Not in a sense that it's lost potential, but rather the opposite; it's found potential, and the duo are greeting it with open, hazy arms.

No Joy manage to architect this idea of engagement through anonymity, without sacrificing what it is that gives them their aesthetic identity. Wait To Pleasure, like many great shoegaze albums of the past, succeeds because it understands the power of emotive visualization even at its most rawest of deliveries. The best shoegaze moments, as the duo clearly recognize here, are those that refuse to use such effect-driven translucency as simply some bordered underpinning. It's a decision that undermines just how humane and rich with emotion these sounds actually are. It's a deliberate obscuring yes - and one intentionally riddled with challenge and contesting assumptions - but it's the albeit-forced descent one takes into this fog; this inhumane realm of noise and drone, that ends up existing long into people's consciousness thereafter. Even when we remove ourselves from the emotive dialogue and the most abstracted/philosphical of responses, No Joy's sound - lead with rhythm and longingly-notated hooks - ends up conveying a shoegaze sound that further questions, as much as it answers to, the justification for such dense surroundings in sound. And the fact that this isn't just an exercise in said ideals, but an expansion on it, sums up the length and breadth one can take into returning to this album, both through a sonic interest, and a contextual one likewise.
~Jordan

7.7

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