“Nervous tensions which derive from… personal frustrations are accentuated by the rapid tempo and the complicated technology under which life in dense areas must be lived.”
Louis Wirth Urbanism as a Way of Life
No Joy, currently an exciting blip on the sprawling roster of Mexican Summer, are currently on an extended tour of Europe, taking in Primavera on their way and ending up at the Lexington on the 20th of June. It is with a sense of excitement that I talk of this news as their music has always deeply interested me following a rather surface-level review of their debut album in Pitchfork. In it Martin Douglass contrived to demonstrate the inferred sense of distance within the record, in which he says the band were founded – this refers to the fact that the two principal writers were situated in Montreal and Los Angeles for a brief period. The concept is sound I think, but, no doubt due to editorial constraints, his argument is a little flat. However, once read, my interest was piqued and the album now holds a certain rosy-eyed splendour in my mind. Distance is a concept that holds a certain amount of uncertainty and vagueness but appears central to me in relation to our unique and isolated location at this alarming nexus of civilisation. Our relationships have managed to fall apart despite increased closeness in a geographical and physical sense. It reminds of the brittle and fragile reality constructed by Chris Petit in his vacillating 2010 documentary Content. We live our lives by the click of a mouse, flitting between one idea to the next, losing our sense of self, our sense of time and, broadly speaking, our sense of reality. And while I dwell upon it we simply move further and further apart, never getting to the centre of this paradox and never allowing ourselves to pull back. This is progress.
It is, however, a concept that I am deeply interested in and and one that I feel the album speaks about in its own particular way and whilst I’m not entirely convinced it comes from this specific instance, it sounds like it is there within the record. Distance, in concrete terms, speaks of separation and physical, geographical boundaries. But where it becomes abstract it loosens this rigidity and becomes a qualitative term addressing subjective responses to situations. It becomes an atmosphere in it’s own right, or even, in Guy Debord’s phrase a “distinct psychic atmosphere.” It achieves a certain level of psychical response that can impact you positively or negatively, effectively drawing out a reaction that is deeply rooted in your situation both emotionally and geographically. Distance is both an abstract and concrete quality, thus, when pertaining to art, it can take hold within the subjective response of the song, or as Douglass explains in relation to No Joy:
“Distance is an ideal that seeps into the pores of every guitar strum and snare hit on the record. Lloyd and White-Glutz’s airy vocals are pushed low into the mix, to the point where their voices resemble conversation from a foggy, half-remembered dream.”
In this half remembered dream the abstractions of distance are explored, and as an alienating and fragmented quality they are expressed physically through the use of noise and immersive reverb. It is in both high artistic conception and in the reality of the instrumentation itself that we are subjected to, are made aware of, and ultimately dwell within distance.
Distance is explored by No Joy in both atmospheres, or ambiences, and in physical character. ‘Take Mediumship’, the opener on Ghost Blonde. Mediumship refers to communicating with the spirits. In channelling you become the organ of this communication, removing the distance between two worlds, or breaking down your own psychic barriers to explore new, unexplored atmospheres. In real and illusory worlds perception is changed by ones’ connection to surroundings; as Theodor Adorno suggests your present constantly reflects and redesigns your surroundings through your changing attitudes and responses to stimuli: “nothing past is proof”. Adorno’s maxim may seem destructive, or reductive, but it actually shows us the ever changing realities of our present. Thus, in ‘Mediumship’, No Joy open up their album and their exploration of distance. Physically though, the album’s shape is in forms that succeed to properly reify these abstractions. It is crafted with an inbuilt wall of oblique tones and artificially effected vocals that seek to show the blurred and nebulous feelings associated with distance. Through mediumship they correlate the abstract and the concrete. It brings together the rational and the spiritual.
“I am infinitely saddened to find myself suddenly surrounded in the West by a sense of terrible loss of nerve, a retreat from knowledge into – into what? Into Zen Buddhism: into extra-sensory perception and mystery.”
Dr Jacob Brokowski
Further exploration of the album throws up numerous exciting and attractive moments and as the delicate wallpaper of your memories fade you are left to re-evaluate what you think you know. As rightly pointed out by Douglass in the Pitchfork review, it is their originality which is the most attractive thing about them. ‘You Girls Smoke Cigarettes’ goes beyond what many bands can even hope to capture. It’s beautifully raw and strangely passive. It lets you into their world as an objective viewer, discerning the sonic currents and the intent inside. Within it is a turbulent cloud of melody all blended together and dug in deep. This is then repeated time and again. Feedback will burn in, a drum beat will set the pace and then with guitars and bass blaring away the melody will seep in latent and insidious until it tattoos itself on your skin and you’re forced to wear it as a badge of honour. And so it is with great excitement that I welcome them to our shores, perhaps then we can find something more real than broken connections.
No Joy on tour
22 – Glasgow, Captains Rest
23 – Manchester, Sound Control
24 – Bristol, Cooler
25 – London, The Social
27 – Spain, Primavera Festival
31 – Zurich, Exil
1 – Milan, Magnolia Summer Festival
2 – Rome, Init
4 – Hamburg, Uebel & Gefährlich
5 – Berlin, Monarch
6 – Munich, 59:1
7 – Amsterdam, Paradiso
8 – Rotterdam, Rotown
10 – London, The Lexington