Monday, January 31, 2011

Review: Joshua’s “Choices”

If there were any justice, New York-based rockers, Joshua would have been at the forefront of the emo scene when they emerged in the late nineties.  Don’t get me wrong, they always showed promise and had a solid, yet small fanbase, but they deserved more.  Originally signed to Doghouse Records, the band built a following by relentlessly touring alongside genre mainstays like the At The Drive-In and the Get Up Kids.  They recorded two very solid albums, “A Whole New Theory,” in 1999 and “Singing To Your Subconscious” in 2002, all along building a particularly strong audience abroad.  Sadly, then, the band parted ways. 

Eight years later, lead-singer, Dan Coutant decided it was time to get the band back together and give this outfit a well-deserved second chance.  He managed to get guitarist Keith Bogart, bassist Sean Hansen and drummer Shane Chikeles to take a risk and go for it all again.  In all truth, it ended up not being a risk at all.  The end result is “Choices,” a lean and powerful collection that should earn them a place alongside the best of their peers. 

I know what you are thinking.  As a genre (and by the mainstream) emo has been mangled and beaten to death.  Rest assured, this is real emo, not the product of whiny hipster teens with fauxhawks and “guy-liner.”  “Choices” is the kind of record that would play well amongst recent classics like Nada Surf’s “Let Go” and Death Cab For Cutie’s “Narrow Stairs,” while still maintaining the sonic integrity of their stylistic brothers in Promise Ring.  In fact, much of “Choices” was recorded with famed Promise Ring, producer, J. Robbins.

The record opens quietly and sweetly with “Goodbye Grey Afternoon.”  At a mere minute and a half, this piece is a haunting, but brief, thoroughly indelible bit of musical mastery.  This is like Joshua’s answer to Nada Surf’s, “Blizzard Of ’77,” a drumless, moving opener, anchored by a solid melody, rich with emotional depth.  With this title, is Coutant saying goodbye to the bad times?  As with most great albums, this record is jam-packed with hope in the face of adversity.  The band has an undeniable drive to succeed.  This song sums all that hope up in a thoroughly appealing package.

Out with the sadness, in with the rock, as track two begins.  With a wink and a nudge, the song is called “We Got Old,” most likely in passing reference to the long gap between records and the fact that the band members are in their mid-thirties.  Emo, by too many, is wrongly seen as a young-person’s genre.  A place where young, nasally-voiced screamers can channel their adolescent angst.  To say this is an a vastly mistaken notion is indeed an understatement.  But still, this is a subgenre ripe with an almost accepted form of ageism.  Just look at the mostly cold reception Jimmy Eat World’s brilliant and masterful, “Invented” received just a few months back.  In truth, the survivors of this genre, if they are allowed to mature, actually tend to make some of their best records once they are older and wiser. With “Choices,” Joshua have firmly put themselves into that group. 

“We Got Old,” rocks with dexterity, as Coutant and Bogart unleash a nice guitar wall.  At its core, this is a catchy, earthy rock song, thick with honest emotion.  As Coutant sings, “I didn’t know that the world was so cold,” one wonders if he expected the work of his group to be poorly received, or if that is an intended meaning at all.  Intended or not, this song (and frankly this album as a whole) can easily be read as a sonic document of the frustration of what it must be like to just barely almost make it and then fall apart.  In this genre, done right, such source material can produce gold.  The results of such flawless execution can also hopefully bring forth great reward!

The disc makes an almost seamless transition into “Temporary Flight Restrictions,” which plays like a wonderfully murky-yet-peppy companion to “We Got Old.”  Not to drive this in too deeply, but Coutant’s chorus of “You’re on a temporary flight,” can’t help but summon notions of the hopes of the past.  Joshua may have fallen from their “flight,” but this record, if embraced by the right crowd should take them much higher than before.  Still these lyrics are full of doubt.  Coutant sings, “Remember my face. / Remember the disdain. / I almost turned it all around. / You won’t remember my name. / Is anyone even listening..?” I really hope someone is!  This record is great! 

“The Defeatist” continues the theme with its title, with Coutant even singing lines like, “My dues have been repaid endlessly,” and “I’ve got so much to say before I leave.”  This is a perfect single and thesis statement for the record as a whole.  Given access to the right channels, this is a song I can imagine being embraced by radio and the mainstream.  It's a solid track, possessing all the group’s best attributes.  It has wide appeal, yet it doesn’t sell out!

“Jet Black” begins with a memorable fuzz-bass riff and morphs into a constantly churning builder.  Once it reaches its apex, Coutant belts out the chorus of “When you’re the last in line, I know you hate it!”  Who can’t relate to that?  There’s an intense sense of fury in the way that Bogart, Hansen, Chikeles and Coutant allow their instruments to combine into a boldly forceful sonic stew.  They mesh together firmly in cohesion as one beast.  

“Mean What You Say,” possesses a driving pound, fueled by Chikeles’ near-go-go beat.  The band has an excellent pop sense as far as hook and structure are concerned.  Here, they sound almost like a more morose, minor key answer to Superchunk.  This is another possible single.  Once again, there’s a lyrical sense of regaining one’s balance, with the lines, “And don’t tell me I don’t exist, because I’m not on your little list! / I told you one day I’d reclaim ownership!”  All I have to say to that is, “Sing it, brother!”  There’s a cool moment in the track when it devolves into a mess of disjointed voices and feedback.  It then launches into a brutal rock assault, with the entire band banging on their instruments as if dependent for survival.  Again, the urgency and importance of this album is effectively captured in incalculable ways!

“Oh My Dear” is another set-defining highlight.  Throughout “Choices,” the members of Joshua manage to fuse dissonance with well-crafted pop.  This is one of the set’s strongest examples.  Again, with its infectious melody, this is another strong single contender. 

“More For Giving” follows suit.  It’s nice to hear Coutant dip into his falsetto for a brief moment as he sings, “I can’t forgive you, / You doused my world in gasoline. / Regretfully, / I can’t forgive you, / You’ll die wishing, / I was more for giving!”  The sweet melody creates nice contrast paired with these visceral words.  Again, this is another strong single contender.  In fact this song is tied with “The Defeatist” as the strongest selection on the disc.

The set closes with “The News.”  I really love the lo-fi, back-to-basics fuzziness of the riff that opens and closes the track.  It brings to mind the more stripped down hardcore and punk of the past.  Again, this is a soaring, angst-ridden, almost dreamlike piece.  As the beat shifts, the songs almost floats for a few seconds.  Again, all these qualities and summoned tones and emotions are hallmarks of great emo.  Joshua end their comeback record quite fittingly.

“Choices” is a record I hope will rewrite history.  It’s the kind of record Joshua couldn’t have made eight years ago.  It is drenched in blood, sweat and angst.  It is a full-throttle account of four men and their struggle to break free from their perceived cage.  They claw their way through with style and substance and leave a lasting impression.  This is the band at the peak of their powers.  If they continue and are rightly encouraged, they will only continue to grow and astound.  “Choices” is indeed a fitting title for this collection.  If Coutant hadn’t made the choice to ask his bandmates to reform, we wouldn’t have gotten this wonderful record.  They definitely made the right decision.  It’s rare to get a second chance.  The members of Joshua used theirs wisely to really strongly build on their legacy.  This is an impressive record.

NOTE: You can stream Joshua’s “Choices” here. All you have to do is sign up for a free password at absolutepunk.net. It is a really simple process and highly worth it!


Follow Joshua on Facebook by clicking here.


UPDATE: The album will be available on June 24 on Arctic Rodeo in various cool colors of vinyl!  It will also be available on CD.

3 Comments:

At 7:26 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

An amazing review of an amazing record and band. Great job!!!

 
At 6:17 AM , Blogger T.H.e.L.i.A said...

Great read. Love how you fearlessly delved right into your review. Keep up the great work.

 
At 6:18 AM , Blogger T.H.e.L.i.A said...

"Guy-liner" major ha-ha's on that one.

 

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