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Artist: Joy

Album: Joy

Label: Shrimper

Review date: Aug. 19, 2003

Surprised by Joy

4-trackers often get thrown together for using the same equipment, regardless of how reductive the comparison may be – imagine comparing Rothko and Kandinsky because they both use oil paints, or cummings and Bukowski because they both write poetry in free verse. The lo-fi end product is really incidental, since there are a thousand reasons why artists do it themselves. Better to separate those who ought to be produced but have no money or opportunity (e.g., early Mendoza Line, Swearing at Motorists, Modest Mouse), and those who have made 4-trackin’ an art in itself (e.g., the We’re Twins, Elephant 6 and Shrimper labels). The former may compile some hype by capitalizing on the “humble beginnings” route to their modest stardom (though we thank them for finally getting in a studio and doing it right); the latter create and inhabit tiny worlds unto themselves, reminding us with the scratches and clicks of their second-hand microphones; that organic production can’t be bought with the money a mighty label might throw at their work. They exude the intimacy of living rooms and basements, and paint pictures of concrete floors and faded yellow couches in musty basements; an unshaven cigarette-smoker in flannel leaning over to press “record” for a cold take of a melody just written on the john.

Joy, the latest from Southern California’s niche lo-fi label Shrimper, is the latter type of 4-tracker, a confidently fresh duo who play and sing as if their Massachusetts bedroom were Carnegie Hall, with lyrics that ooze a mysterious depression and laziness made even more strange by a cheerful, energetic delivery. Lyrical narratives unfold like the wrenched-accent poetry of Refrigerator and Herman Düne. The magic of Matt Savage’s Nick Drake-affected vocals and Daniel Madri’s melodic electro-acoustic guitar textures conjures up a sleeping ghost of painfully raw emotion. When Savage sings “The Garden State Parkway / Ate up most their change”, we sense the loss and the familiarity, then conversely feel the strangeness of our own internal organs in “Lump of Eels”, a most uncanny, dead-on analogy to the brain. Both images, both emotions make sense in this 18-foot square world. A few of the tracks add color with tinny upright piano and percussion, but for the most part the Joy equation remains 1 + 1.

They may use the same standard gear as artists like Nothing Painted Blue, Lou Barlow’s Sentridoh, and Secret Stars, but the whispers of ingenuity and ingenuousness compressed within the flat tape of the 4-track – the one quality that can’t be planned or fabricated by turning dozens of little knobs – speak in convincing and unique fashion on Joy's debut.

By Joel Calahan

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