The benefits of releasing a new record in stages seem dubious. It may create awareness within a potential target audience or build anticipation with current fans of a band, but it can also result in the actual release being a bit underwhelming when it happens. With half of Mt. Joy’s sophomore record Rearrange Us already sprung, the joy of discovery is certainly lacking, but now that all the tracks are presented together, is this a record of individual moments or is it more potent as a collective whole?
Nick Hornby never did a ‘Top Five Final Tracks’ in High Fidelity, but if he did, ‘Strangers’ may be on it. Putting the best track right at the end is certainly a brave thing to do as the track really is the distillation of the Mt. Joy vibe; a swooning intro on the piano beguiles before Matt Quinn’s lyrical vocals disarm and the rhythm section adds the muscle. It has a melodic summery charm, perfect for these more unsettling times and it’s a great way to close the record, but is this a quality that permeates through the whole album?
In fact, the album opener ‘Bug Eyes’ begins deceptively. “On the day you left I could tell by your text that you were gonna / ruin my life” Quinn sings. The tone is sombre and the acoustic intro muted but there’s a moment of clarity – “Always look forward, and may all your love be returned” – and the song blooms, enhanced by elegant synths and a more gutsy electric guitar.
The first single and title track has a cool, clean cut to its jib before the brief, unnecessary gospel interlude of ‘Have Faith’ interrupts proceedings. This penchant for disrupting the flow of the record is frustrating and thankfully the funky, colourful ‘My Vibe’ gets us back on track. “The song’s about learning to let yourself have fun when you’ve been feeling down, and we hope it can help right now” say the band. Playing loose with styles, eras and influences adds to the fun of the track. Fans of Delta Spirit or Houndmouth will certainly enjoy the revamped Americana characteristics during these moments.
There’s an easy-listening aesthetic to ‘Let Loose’. Smoky synths, slick vocals and ornate guitar inflections barrel towards a more raucous conclusion but ‘Every Holiday’ is just a bit too twee and ultimately this is the prevailing sense one gets when listening to the album as a whole; there are moments to really savour amidst the record’s thirteen tracks, but some tracks just pass you by and the ebb and flow of the record becomes just a bit too distracting to really enhance the broader album experience. By including the majestic ‘Strangers’ at the end at least reminds us that there are some real moments of quality that make this record one that you will return to, but maybe not in its entirety.