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Mt. Joy Album Review

Kevin Carr

Author’s note—Before I begin, I must say that this will be an unorthodox album review. Most reviews that I’ve read are extremely brief and only highlight a few songs that the author considers to categorize the album and artist best. I disagree with this method. I have no expertise in writing album reviews; in fact, this is my first one. However, I’m an avid music listener, musician, and song-writer, and if someone was going to write a review on my album, I’d hope that they would dive deeper into the music that the artist has put countless hours of effort into. That is my goal here. I will talk about every song, sometimes highlighting the musical composition, sometimes focusing on lyrics and theme, and sometimes looking into the feelings created by the song. It all depends on what jumps out to me and my unavoidable personal bias.

Mt. Joy’s self-titled debut album, released on March 2nd, 2018, is an astounding record. Consisting of 13 songs, the album draws from countless musical influences yet maintains a grooved-out style of its own. The band consists of Matt Quinn (lead vocals/guitar), Sam Cooper (guitar), Michael Byrnes (bass), Sotiris Eliopoulos (drums), and Jackie Miclau (keyboard). Mt. Joy’s music blends indie folk rock songwriting styles similar to Neil Young with a bluesy psychedelic tone reminiscent of the Grateful Dead, all with a laid back modern flavor capable of producing huge hits in today’s music scene.

I was first introduced to Mt. Joy on a hungover Saturday morning in Dublin, Ireland; a Trinity College of Dublin dorm room to be exact. I had received a text from a girl back home that said “Please listen to this album for me, I think you’ll really like it.” Attached to the message was a link to Mt. Joy’s album on Spotify. I tossed on my headphones and laid back in bed, head throbbing, and started “I’m Your Wreck”.

Like a newborns first time opening its eyes, or the long awaited crash into the world of light at the end of a train tunnel, I’m Your Wreck is the emotionally-infused entrance to the world of Mt. Joy. With the powerful introducing note, the steady chugging-along beat, and the climactic groove, I felt as though I’d woken up on Hemingway’s train rolling through white hills; light pouring in through the windows, headed to somewhere I was destined to go. The locomotive beat wheeling on endlessly carries my mind between colors, but eventually, I reach my stop. “Stitch it together kid, I know you know better, take a real deep breath and I’ll burn the letter, this is headlights in the fog…” The train doors open, and I step foot into joyous hallucinations brought upon by walking bass lines, layered tones of keyboard and guitars, and the steady shake of the drums. It’s as though I was in Neil Armstrong’s boots, taking the first step out onto the moon’s surface with zero gravity, yet shaking my fuckin ass throughout that weightless stride. It truly is a barefooted love-shuffle, “snap in the groove” kind of feeling that singer Matt Quinn goes on to express as the lyrics reconvene. Quinn follows this reminiscence with a line that I think sings throughout the entire album: “And when you take forever, I know time moves slow, but I want to know you will remember that I put my soul into it all.” The power behind these words and in his voice is carried until the songs final note. I’m Your Wreck is more than just a good song, but a journey into Mt. Joy’s sonic space where you remain for the rest of the album. You can almost picture Quinn pulling his heart from his chest and saying “Here, this is yours now, but never forget where it’s from.”

Sorry other songs, now on to you.

Dirty Love, the ukulele led track features a simplistic theme that branches out in slightly varied melodic forms. The song follows the course of a failing young love story present in lots of music, but addresses ideas of hidden desire, forced love, and the consequences of these kinds of relationships. Dirty Love was one of the songs I came to like least throughout the album, perhaps because of a sense of repetitiveness, but I can appreciate the quality nonetheless. The distorted vocals drive home a nostalgic feeling while the instrumentation remains simple as to not draw from the song’s message – a common theme lyrically and musically prioritized by most of the songs on this album.

Silver Lining, another deep track, seems to address the drug problems persistent in today’s culture. The song exhibits a soulful rhythm and blues approach to an indie folk-rock sing-a-long. Silver Lining is a lyrically led catchy foot-stomper that starts to evoke a grittier side of Mt. Joy, enforced by Quinn’s belting voice and Cooper’s echoing guitar solo with fuzz tones and high-intensity tremolo.

Bigfoot is a low-key top song on this album. A calming presence stabilizes the sound and draws out a truthful storyline that seems to speak right to you thanks to Quinn’s unbelievable voice. The synonymous addition of the bass, keys, and guitars after the intro really drew me in. Proper panning is partially responsible for this but so is the simplicity of the song’s structure. Bigfoot may seem like a lyrically packed song, but it is truly just rhythmic poetry placed over an enabling chord progression. Also, the fact that they use Bigfoot as a metaphor for some lonely guy waiting for love is super cool--“But Bigfoot is out there just knowing you don’t care about his life in solitude. He’s dancing with the lonely, he’d choose you only, he’d rock from side to side.” Definitely one of the album’s top songs for me.

Sheep is a staple of Mt. Joy's sound. The song starts with a flamingo-picking waterfall vibe of sorts and develops into a very dedicated song. The band creates a coarse dynamic between Cooper’s guitar and Quinn’s voice that was not yet completely heard in the previous songs. Bits of I’m Your Wreck and Silver Lining exhibited some of this, but a funkier timing and note placement between the two melodies sets Sheep apart. The duo plays together seamlessly, filling each other’s space’s causing a fulfilling band feeling, despite a generally singer-songwriter influenced writing style. This spaced recording style allows each instrument to be heard freely without any excessive overlap between the voicings, making it easier for the listener to absorb. This is a trait common with the “Nashville Sound”, where the legendary A-Team session musicians have defined a style that expresses each instrument to its optimal ability without tiring the listener’s ear and taking away from the song. I’m sure Cooper could fill this song with some gnarly riffs along with some protruding bass lines and drum fills from Byrnes and Eliopoulos, but the discipline to remain simple is something that goes a long way in the recording and mixing process. Mt. Joy does a great job of this throughout the record and especially in Sheep.

Julia, a stoney love song, is a pop shuffle vibe that enforces Quinn’s vocal ability to seamlessly transition between scratchy mid-range to falsetto on command. The tune takes the listener from a wake-and-bake mindset at the local diner, to a windows down highway cruise feeling. The song’s rhythm almost suggests it was written to the tempo of a bouncing sidewalk trot on a sunny day. Mt. Joy has an outstanding ability to paint an image, at least in my head, and Julia is one of the songs that expose this trait best.

Mt. Joy is a very interesting song. The introduction is a retro-toned call and response lick between the guitar and bass that sounds like it’s straight out of the movie Tron. Another guitar joins in as a counter-melody and builds until an ultimate drop-off, leaving Quinn’s voice, a bass drum, and the later guitar melody to carry the song up to a dramatic bridge section. The bridge section is an extreme peak in both the lyrics and the instrumentals: “…They can’t stop us, feel like Ziggy Stardust. And I dreamed you felt it too, and I dreamed it all came true…” Quinn builds this up further until a releasing yell makes way for the band to expand this energy to its finale. I think the lyrics at this point can be taken in a few ways. Either this is representative of the inability to know if someone else is thinking and feeling the same thing as you, or the words are relaying how it must feel to be in Mt. Joy, a band that was suddenly allowed to forget the world and follow their dreams. But still, the power is the same, because despite the lyricist’s intentions, every single listener brings their own experiences to the song and will have their own relation to what these lyrics might mean.

Astrovan, the song that sparked Mt. Joy’s success as a single prior to their debut album release, is a folk rock jammer inciting ideas of a “Deadhead” Jesus who drives the country in an astrovan. A typical 4/4-time measure is syncopated with Cooper’s off beat plucks, but the addition of the atypical lyrics of holy figures being depicted as mortals with real problems and humanistic lifestyles gives the song a certain uniqueness. I think of this song as a reassurance that some things aren’t worth stressing about. If there are “angels smoking cigarettes on rooftops in fishnets in the morning” or a “doobie smoking Jesus”, then we shouldn’t feel so ashamed when we exhibit human error and stray from the “purity” we originally knew. The laid back style of the song in general furthers this message, providing a blanket for the mind and saving dreams that “are more than paper things”.

Cardinal is a decent song, though personally not my favorite. At first, the whistling intro was one of those sounds that’s so catchy it gets stuck in your head and annoys you endlessly, but I’ve grown past this since the songs entirety makes up for it. Cardinal has great lyrics and promotes a very optimistic message. The message is that there will always be people who judge you, but live the life that makes you happiest and find those who will help you achieve that. “And whatever you’re supposed to be, whatever that’s supposed to mean. I just wanted you to know that you don’t have to come clean to me…Yeah everything’s exactly, everything’s exactly where it needs to be”. The instrumentation is extremely subdued for most of the song until the bridge section, but is primarily soft acoustic finger-picking and intermixing electric guitar. When the second verse hits, the finger-picking changes to strummed chords along with the keyboard and begins to build some drive for the bridge nicely. Enter the drums and bass at the bridge, and the rest of the song is a full band feeling taking the song home.

Jenny Jenkins is one of my favorite songs on this album. Whenever I’m playing my guitar in my room and turn on Mt. Joy, Jenny Jenkins is always one of the songs I jam to. However, I still don’t have a very good idea of what this song is about. As I look at the lyrics, one of the only themes I can see is that they might represent life before being famous, “You know I wouldn’t change things, even if I made it.”. At the same time, it could be a metaphor for staying young throughout the whole process of Mt. Joys burst of fame, “So we take our time and skip around some, half my love is on the run, half my love is on the run, chase it down while I’m young.” The music itself follows a basic 1-5-4-6 chord structure with some major-7 flavoring and is continued through the whole song with altered dynamics as to not sound repetitive. Utilizing an upbeat guitar stroke, the song keeps a jiving feel while the pattern changes occur quickly enough to keep the song moving. Jenny Jenkins is a great example of expanding the possibilities of one of music’s simplest chord structures, used in thousands of pop songs, yet Mt. Joy does it in a way that feels new.

Sado is an odd song but extremely catchy. Just two minutes and fourteen seconds long, Sado doesn’t waste any time between the verses and chorus. Each verse starts with the nonsensical yet drawing “Sado potato ate a raw tomato” line and then alters the following few lines to the effect of a pre-chorus. Between the second and third chorus is a warm and spacy solo from cooper and is returned with a transitional phrase from the full band. Finally, the song closes out with the third verse. Short and sweet.

St. George is one of the most powerful songs on this album. With the fusion of epically honest lyrics and a strictly guitar and bass arrangement, the song has a dark flavor similar to Nirvana or some Led Zeppelin songs like the intro to “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” for example. For St. George and other Mt. Joy songs, the realness is what really draws me in. Hearing someone else’s darkest feelings is somehow relieving for ourselves in a selfish yet human way. “Who would you die for? Who would you die for? List their name in the stars. Who would you lie for? Who would you lie for? Is she laying in your arms?” These are some of the most moving lyrics I’ve heard. The words and musical dynamics have the ability to force the audience to answer these questions themselves and create mental confrontation within the listener. Only great songs have the capability to cause this contemplation among the audience, and this is why I consider St. George truly great.

Younger Days, the last and longest song on the album, is an ode to the freedom of youth and the transitional stages of life. Quinn’s writing in Younger Days is absolutely beautiful and greatly correlates with the song’s peaceful tone. One line I personally find to be extraordinarily impactful is in the entrance to the second verse—“If I don’t wake up trace me on the asphalt, let the morning rain wash me away.” The line creates a vivid image of a chalk-traced body on the street, but the deeper thought of letting the world’s natural forces take care of “me” is perfect and summarizes the entire thesis of the song. “And if you worry don’t worry about me. I always wanted to be free in the simple way I found in all those younger days.” The outro follows this path and brings the song to a heartfelt close. Quinn puts everything he has into his last words “Am I blue enough?”, and the band maintains its somber rhythm through the album’s final note. A perfect ending to a great record.

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