ALBUM: I’m Alone No You’re Not
Album release date: August 26, 2016
The band called Joseph had its genesis in the mind of Natalie Closner, a 29-year-old woman from Oregon who first began song-writing in college. After a year or so of attempting to pursue music as a solo-act and finding herself stuck in a creative rut, she enlisted the help of her twin younger sisters, Meegan and Allison, and the course of their lives thus changed. In 2014 they released their debut album, Native Dreamer Kin, and slowly gained a devoted fan-base by playing shows in living rooms and backyards. They caught the attention of ATO records, and have experienced a steady increase in success over the past couple of years.
Their latest album, I’m Alone No You’re Not, features 11 tracks and falls into the realm of commercial pop, with dashes of refreshing idiosyncrasy here and there. It’s a definite departure from their initial release, which was an earthy, vocally-driven affair full of beguiling lyrics, impressive in its simplicity. I’m Alone will come as a surprise to devotees of Joseph’s original, could-be-singing-in-your-living-room sound and unaffected, journalistic writing style.
While it’s evident when reading interviews or watching live performances that the Closner sisters are vastly talented women who have a great deal to offer the world, something of their essence and power is obscured in this album beneath the trappings of pop. Production was headed by Mike Mogis, whose clientele includes Swedish sister-act First Aid Kit, Jason Mraz, M Ward, and most frequently, Bright Eyes. Mogis’ vision likely sounded fitting and brave in pre-production, but ultimately falls a tad too heavy-handed in execution, failing to illuminate what made these sisters so compelling in Native. (Nota bene: Having an impressive history in music production doesn’t always imply impeccable intuition.)
The first song, Canyon, opens with an atmospheric, spacey tone, setting the stage sonically. Echoey drums make their entrance here and imbue the rest of the album with that ubiquitous vibe we’ve learned to identify as “anthemic”. The lyrics of this first tune (uncomfortably) come off like an attempt to sound dangerously amorous: Give me your body, give me your mind, I wanna cross your borders…Give me your hands, wanna put mine on you” – somehow, such lines are just too on the nose – too I Am Woman Hear me Roar – to evoke the genuine sense of excitement associated with the dance that occurs between man and woman.(The writing on this album, as a whole, has less grit and mystery than their first, consisting mainly of third-person ruminations, admittedly catchy one-liners, and dramatic oohs and aahs in the place of substantive language and imagery. Planets and I Don’t Mind are the most thoughtful of the set in this regard, in my opinion.)
From a musical perspective, not every moment of the album is over-saturated with drum-machines, synth, strings, and rumbling piano: here and there the beauty of the human voice shines through, and when it does, you hardly notice (or care) whether or not the lyrics are Shakespeare. The sisters each have a raspy, slightly cotton-mouthed, breathy way of singing that sounds crystalline when distinct, and worshipful when blended. They have an effortless beauty – musically and physically – that needs very little dressing up.
One should be sympathetic to the fact that having three-part harmonies as their distinguishing trait would pose a challenge to Joseph: the mathematical basis of intervals is inhibiting, and threatens a homogeneous tone. But turning to pop-production doesn’t add the dimension or timelessness they’re striving after, methinks: it adds unnecessary layers – too much lipstick, too much foundation – to something that is most radiant when it is at its simplest.
If you’ve not heard Joseph yet, your surest way of experiencing the depth of their giftedness is to see them, hear them, and encounter them live, which I highly encourage you to do.