Review by Jonno Lloyd
No Joy are a Canadian four-piece formed in 2009, they haven’t been around for long but they’ve already put out two albums and two EPs, all of which seem to be getting quite a bit of attention and a lot of nice things said about them. Combine that with the DOOMGAZER/POP tagline on their various pages and I’m intrigued enough to pick up the first album, a 10 track 2010 release named Ghost Blonde.
Released just one year after the band came together, I’ll tell you now, this album bursts with the maturity, self awareness and creativity of a band that’s been at this for a whole lot longer. For it’s sound this album sits somewhere between shoegaze, alternative 90’s rock and the pop roots it previously mentioned, though I’m still no closer to working out what the hell ‘Doomgazer’ is.
A good word to describe Ghost Blonde would be immersion, right from the start the album pulls you in with these gorgeous dreamy soundscapes linked together with a wash of feedback and noise that helps each song blur together. Big guitars, fuzzy bass and airy vocal melodies conjure up this real driving-with-the-top-down-in-the-summer-sun image. The vocals are mostly vague, low in the mix, reverberating around in the background but they do still somehow have a lot of character, and give a lot of good feeling.
With it’s laid back floating sound blending these songs together you might not find a stand out track your first few listens, it feels more like something you stick on and experience rather than analyze piece by piece. The songs get into their own space, find their favorite melodies and then kind of zone out on their own as they go. Though this could give you a repetitive set of songs on paper, the band has a good enough self awareness to know when they’ve really got something good and to just let it happen.
At a couple of points in the album things do get sped up a little and the shoegaze takes a backseat behind some more direct Alternative Rock tunes, ‘You Girls Smoke Cigarettes?’ and ‘Still’ introduce some fast paced drums and some more discordant heavy guitar to keep up the album’s energy. ‘Hawaii’ offers a slice of a slightly more standard Alt Rock theme, though this time slightly more incriminating, as I’m pretty sure this is actually just a Sonic Youth track. Of course, comparisons can always be drawn, especially with an album with a notably nostalgic sound like this one, and that might not have to be a negative thing, knock this back fifteen years and you can guarantee this band would have been huge, maybe this makes the band ‘retro’ in a cool way, but this can really be the albums biggest problem at times.
With the feedback that opens and closes so many segments of the album, the simple lazy-day chords and the perma-fuzz bass, this could be a real breath of fresh air, at face value an attractive piece of anachronistic summertime Alt Rock. But it can feel a little distracting when it occasionally steps juuuust over that line between a nostalgic trip back in time and stealing from the Breeders when they’re not looking. Fans of Slow Dive might also feel a similar conflict, unsure whether to rally behind No Joy or boycott them entirely.
With that said, Ghost Blonde is an album you’ll be wanting to check out. No Joy stand up proudly here alongside their 90s influences and their more modern peers, quickly bringing themselves into the running alongside more psychedelic incarnations of the style like The Horrors or TOY. This is a really well put together album. with a great ear for melody and harmony and a gorgeous atmosphere, but some might argue it just can’t escape it’s influences.