No Joy – “Wait to Pleasure”

The biggest challenge of writing about music is trying to describe why I like what I like. With some artists, it’s not too hard, because something about their music or personality lends itself to narrative, or they played a role in my life that makes for a decent story. Others are more difficult — the music might just sound the way I like music to sound, in which case there isn’t a whole lot to say other than “This is really good, in my opinion. Maybe you will like it too.” These bands may not make for the most interesting blog posts, but they are a large part of my music collection, and really define my taste more than the bigger name artists.

No Joy is one of those tricky bands. Built on the songwriting duo of Laura Lloyd and Jasamine White-Glutz, they play music that basically has everything I like: very loud shoegaze guitars that unleash sheets of noise, melodic songwriting and (of course) female vocals. Wait to Pleasure is their second full length, following 2010’s vastly underrated Ghost Blonde and last year’s Negaverse E.P, and it represents a huge leap forward for the band, who have now developed their own identity while continuing to refine their songwriting. It’s not an album that will have any sort of broader narrative attached to it, but fans of the band and this genre will almost certainly be very pleased.

No Joy separate themselves from the horde of bands mining similar influences by doing everything just a bit better: the guitars are louder, the melodies are catchier, and the production is cleaner. This is a band that understands what makes shoegaze great and why people listen to it. Songs like “Hare Tarot Lies” sum up their strengths well, combining noisy riffs and hooks, which with their indecipherable lyrics make the song accessible and mysterious at the same time. “Lunar Phobia” sounds different from any song on Ghost Blonde, with more emphasis on keyboards and a programmed drum beat that helps the band step out of the shadow of their influences a bit.

It can be easy to write off a band like No Joy as an imitator of earlier groups that have explored similar territory, but Wait for Pleasure is an album that actually doesn’t sound like much else — it has a pop sensibility that some other shoegaze groups lack, and the decibel levels separate it from lighter noise-pop bands like Best Coast. It’s basically non-stop jams, and I recommend it a lot to anyone with an interest in loud guitar rock. You can buy it from their label, Mexican Summer, here.

An Addendum (a blog post about blogging)

There’s a pretty good chance that if you made it to this blog, it was because of the “Greatest Girl Rock songs” series I wrote about a year-and-a-half ago. According to the WordPress statistics, that series of three posts accounts for about 38% of my total traffic, and seemingly all of my views lately are from people googling phrases like “best female rock songs.”

I should be happy. People are reading something I wrote! Or at least listening to things I recommended! (Neither of these were real expectations I had when I started this.) But honestly, I’m kind of mortified. The problem with having a blog that I hadn’t really considered is that your posts just hang around on the Internet forever, and in this case it only started to get a lot of traction months after I had posted it. This is a problem for me, because I tend to look back on old writing I’ve done with a mixture of horror and sheer disgust. On a music blog, this problem is magnified a million times, because not only is my writing and way of thinking about things constantly changing, but so are my opinions on music just based on discovering new artists and getting sick of old ones.

The biggest mistake I made, which is something that legitimately has tormented me internally ever since, was calling the music “girl rock.” I thought about this a lot at the time: do I call it “female rock,” “women rock,” or something else? I settled on girl rock because I thought it sounded the best and captured the energy of most of the tracks. But even at the time, I knew I sounded a bit condescending, like the ultimate douchey rock bro. In retrospect, I wish I had used almost any other word, because “girl” is lame and terrible when a guy uses it, 100 percent of the time.

There’s one other word in the title that I find really embarrassing: “greatest.” Ugh. Where do I begin? The world would be a better place if this word never appeared in a music-related article or blog post again. I got it in my head that I was an authority on the subject because I had listened to a lot of it. In reality, I’m just a dork with a blog. I don’t actually know much of anything and most of my opinions are meaningless compared to others that you can read on the world wide web. If you want to read music writing from people who seriously know their stuff, there are a lot of better places you can go — I’ll be happy to link you.

The list itself was actually not bad. There are some things I would change just based on how my opinions of artists shift constantly, but I’m still happy with it compared to similar lists I saw on the Internet, which I felt never really focused on the right artists. My write-ups are obviously awful, but hopefully nobody has been reading those anyways. If you did, I’m sorry. I have plans to revisit and expand my list (which has ballooned into a 50-song iTunes playlist), and hopefully next time I can do things slightly better. In the meanwhile, I recommend enjoying the tunes and ignoring my words.

Writing about music is tricky, and writing about female musicians — which I obviously do a lot — is more difficult, because I’m hyper-aware of all the terrible things male music writers often do when they think they’re being complimentary. I hope people at least realize that I try my best, and just about everything on here is out of a sincere appreciation for the artists that made the music. But in this case, I feel like I screwed up pretty badly, so I wanted to get this out of my system.

Why Music Needs Risk

I’m a really boring person who lives a life that involves a lot of routine. I tend to eat a lot of the same food and order the same dish whenever I’m at a restaurant. I prefer to go to sleep and wake up at around the same time every day, if possible. I also let fear dictate my life far too much: I won’t go on roller coasters or other thrill rides and I don’t even drive, drink or do drugs, mostly because I’m scared of what will happen to me if I do. Basically, most of my life is spent in a constant, quivering state of fear that something will push me out of my comfort zone and then kill me instantly.

Music has been important to me, because it offers a means of escape from the sometimes soul-deadening boredom of life. A lot of the albums I love the most are ones that create another world that I can disappear into: The Magic CityLovelessHomogenic, etc. It’s also why I reject a lot of music that is trying to be about “regular people.” When I listen to music, I want something that will take me away from real life and make me feel something different.

I think this feeling is the root of why I have what could charitably be described as “weird” taste in music. While I am a boring guy that rarely tries new things, my favorite musicians are almost all the exact opposite: they’re risk-takers and explorers, artists (often women) who are always willing to tread new ground and challenge the status quo —  think Radiohead, PJ Harvey, Sleater-Kinney, Mary Timony, My Bloody Valentine and many others. Risk and unpredictability are traits that I really prize in music, because they lead to the types of albums that don’t sound like anything else.

I find music without that sense of risk to be incredibly boring. Last year, I complained about how predictable the second album by The xx was, and it was a feeling that I’ve been having a lot since I started to listen to new albums in higher rotation. The more I listen, the more I feel like I’m becoming over-saturated with new music — and with so many bands embracing similar influences and doing similar things, I can start to almost predict what an album is going to sound like and what a song is going to do. It’s a real drag. To me, it’s basically the worst feeling I can have when listening to music: that what I’m hearing has been done before and what I’m currently listening to is bringing nothing new to the table.

Lately, one of my favorite artists has been Afrirampo, a sadly defunct Japanese noise-rock band that I wrote about a few months ago when I was first getting interested in them. And I’ve been thinking about them in a lot in relation to the value of being unpredictable. Afrirampo’s appeal lies in the sheer wildness of their music: they embrace tons of different styles and play every song with a manic energy. But beyond the stylistic hodgepodge, from noise to punk to psychedelic rock to pop, what also stands out is the songs themselves, which often run several minutes in length and shift genres seemingly at random. Every Afrirampo song is like a roller coaster — I hate the real things, but when it comes to metaphorical musical ones, I’m happy to go along for the ride.

I’m legitimately unsure if any band ever had as much fun making music as Afrirampo did. They played with so much exuberance, and it’s part of why I really enjoy them even though I have no idea what the songs are actually about (if anything). Compare them to an acclaimed band like The National, a band whose popularity eludes me because they’re just so unfun and dull, with songs that all fit into a very safe, unexciting mopey rock zone. Music like that just does not interest me on any level. That puts me in a pretty significant minority, which makes sense: the more risky music is, the less likely it is to appeal to the masses — but I also think it’s less likely to be forgotten two years later.

The end result of all of this is that I’ve started seeking out more fringey music that might not be like what I’ve heard before. Bands like Afrirampo, the female-fronted metal group Subrosa, or the mysterious Swedish group Goat, whose album World Music was one of my favorites of last year in part because of how unpredictable and strange it was. These are the bands that really get me excited about music these days compared to the fourth Beach House album of samey songs that gets a 9.1 on Pitchfork. Unfortunately, they’re also the types of bands that are few and far between in the current indie machine that rewards people for doing the same old things instead of taking risks.