No Joy’s “Motherhood” Goes Where No Shoegaze Has Gone Before

I wasn’t sure if I was going to like this No Joy album. Guitarist Laura Lloyd left the band after 2015’s More Faithful, leaving it as a solo project for Jasamine White-Gluz, who spent the last few years experimenting with her sound on very hit-or-miss EPs. Her music started leaning into influences like trip-hop and nu-metal, and it triggered the old fogey within me that thinks change is scary and bad. This particularly comes out with shoegaze, which I love in part because it has this formula that has been iterated on forever: one part loud guitars, another part soft, breathy vocals, a touch of subtle melody. There are tons of bands every year trying their own spin on it, and it’s fun to hear the different takes on a familiar concept. There’s also a comfort in knowing a certain amount of releases every year will sound just the way I like it, no matter what else is happening in music or the world.

The daringness of Motherhood, which has finally arrived from the lab after all those EP experiments, is how it refuses to adhere to all of these shoegaze tropes. White-Gluz doesn’t want to sound familiar: she wants to do something new, and she succeeds in making an album that legitimately sounds like nothing else, yet is also still definitively No Joy. She has moved beyond labels or definitions and in some ways created her own style of music.

Motherhood is full of songs that conceptually probably started with the words “what if.” Sounds, genres, and influences that have never been in the same song before collide repeatedly, but in a way that is cohesive and not something that sounds like an empty mash-up. White-Gluz enlists her sister, Alissa (who is the vocalist for death metal band Arch Enemy) on “Dream Rats,” which features her growling vocals, punishing noise, thunderous beats, and a shimmering synth part along with Jasamine’s uncanny light voice, which remains a staple of No Joy’s sound. It’s a mix of beauty and ugliness and plain strangeness that all somehow coheres into a poppy, addictive song. And that’s just a glimpse of the exhilarating creativity running throughout the album.

The secret part of No Joy’s success that I overlooked previously, when I was so focused on their guitar sound and the shoegaze formula, is that White-Gluz has a real knack for off-kilter hooks. She makes songs that are difficult to stop listening to, in part because they’re so different and hard to figure out. “Four” starts with a loud guitar riff, then randomly drifts into an entrancing trip-hop excursion featuring the sound of a baby and some looping half-whispered vocals. Nothing about it makes sense to me, and I have no idea how she thought to put all these sounds together. She says it was a love-letter to music she loved in the late 90s, but that doesn’t explain how she has made everything fit and feel like her own style. A frequent thought I had while listening to this was “I have no idea what this is, but I wish there was more of it.”

Not since Bon Voyage by Melody’s Echo Chamber has an album in this shoegazey realm captured so much imagination and been so willingly eccentric. It’s like a surreal late-90s time capsule mixed with forward-thinking pop, and it is so fun to hear an album willing to take the listener on a journey into unexpected territory. It even has some comprehensible lyrics from the band for a change, about (you guessed it) motherhood and White-Gluz’s feelings as a woman in her 30s who feels the pressure to have kids (the baby in “Four” also feels like a nod to this theme). But mostly, this is a musical thrill ride and listeners who are on board with its strange, adventurous style might have a hard time wanting to get off it.

The Legacy of Trish Keenan: Until Then

If you think nothing is yours
And if I think everything belongs to me
How wrong I’ll be
None of us have anything
There’s a place I have never explored
Another world we have yet to conquer
And until then none of us have anything

Those words, from “Until Then” off The Noise Made By People, have stuck with me more than any other lyrics in music. In typical Broadcast fashion, they’re simple, and sung unpretentiously, yet lend themselves to unlimited interpretation. They’re paired with creaky, heaving synths that near the end swell into a massive buzzing crescendo that was probably the loudest the typically quiet band ever sounded on record. Then suddenly, it stops, and reverts to silence — a beautiful sound is extinguished.

Trish Keenan died in January, 2011, after contracting swine flu while on tour in Australia. She was only 42 years old. At the time, I was living in a dorm room during J-Term and I woke up to the news from Pitchfork and couldn’t believe it. Again, I wish I had a better story, like I cried or went into a fascinating nihilistic tailspin. But all I did was turn on her music, and I listened to Broadcast’s whole discography all the way through that day, mostly through my crummy laptop speakers, I think out of hope it would somehow echo through the building and people would hear it and discover it.

Her death meant the context of the songs changed permanently, and because they tended towards being ambiguous, some of them, like “Until Then,” jumped out more than they had for me previously. Now I think Keenan’s lyrics describe an afterlife or possibly a parallel universe — a psychedelic kind of world separate from this one where I like to imagine her continuing to explore and find the truth. Normally, I don’t buy into such concepts, but Keenan’s greatest gift was her ability to make you believe, to provide thoughtfulness and hope in the face of cynicism and darkness.

In the wake of her death, there was a gratifying outpouring of appreciation for Keenan, including from a range of celebrities, and a lot of discussion about a band that was rarely the subject of online discourse. But then everyone moved on, as they do, and now I wonder if people under a certain age have any idea who this band is (even I’m probably on the very young side of Broadcast fans). It’s also become abundantly clear that bands like Broadcast aren’t a priority for the music press, which has become a monoculture that is obsessed with what is new and hip, not necessarily what will last. If music writing isn’t about preserving bands like this, that offer so much, then what exactly is being accomplished?

Ultimately, the responsibility now lies on fans of the band to pass this music down, almost like an oral history. One of the more satisfying experiences I had recently (back when I thought I would finish this series in a couple months) was attending a Keenan tribute show at Moon Palace Books, which featured local bands covering her songs. The entire room was cramped with people talking about Keenan, celebrating her art, and every singer did their best to interpret her songs, even though she had something intangible that will never be replicated. That was when I saw the impact of her music in more real terms: while Keenan was not a mega-celebrity, and isn’t a constant source of discussion now, there was this entire group of people inspired and moved by her music, many of whom were playing in their own bands. That’s the legacy I like artists to strive for rather than winning awards or generating buzz.

Keenan was able to inspire that kind of devotion while being soft-spoken and unassuming. She let her music do most of the talking and made songs that gave listeners the freedom to join her while she explored all of these different worlds. As a relative novice to music when I discovered the band, she was the artist who inspired me the most, who showed me the joy that could be had in hearing music that aimed to be intelligent, generous, and personal rather than just profitable. And she made me want to pay that forward, to try to convince people that there are amazing obscure artists out there who can change your life and are just waiting to be discovered.

Ganser Delivers Thoughtful, Thrilling Rock With “Just Look at That Sky”

Ganser does not sound like a band that is looking to be included on the next algorithmically-generated chill indie “rock” playlist. The latest from the Chicago group, Just Look at That Sky, brings back some of the traits that I feel have been missing from rock music for awhile: menace, danger, and a desire to stand out and provoke instead of blending in with the crowd. This is music that demands attention, and it’s the most visceral and thrilling rock album I’ve heard in 2020.

The band’s sound has a way of capturing the current tumultuous environment we all find ourselves in: the grinding noise from the guitars and frantic rhythms create a chaotic, anxious mood; everything feels like it’s on the verge of falling apart at any time. This style is indebted to some clear influences that the band own up to themselves, like Sonic Youth and The Jesus Lizard, but Ganser is never in anyone’s shadow because of a distinct point of view that comes from its two vocalists, Nadia Garofalo and Alicia Gaines.

On the third track, “Projector,” Garofalo meets the frenetic sound with a sarcastic, withering delivery, speak-singing lyrics that critique pseudo-intellectuals who mask hopeless nihilism behind a lot of big words and ideas (fittingly, the video features her giving a mock Ted Talk). At least that’s how it seems on the surface, but with Ganser, everything is more complex than it first appears. The song also invites the reading that this is a self-critique, a realization that even good, smart people have days where they feel like nothing matters and so they distract themselves with heady subjects and conversations. While it’s easy — especially now — to make music that dunks on people and gives its audience a sense of intellectual superiority, Just Look at That Sky does something more difficult and worthwhile. Rather than just observe “hey, here are some shitty people and things happening, doesn’t this suck,” the band examines the emotions and anxieties that come from living in crazy times, including the darker feelings some listeners may not want to think about.

Gaines has a powerful voice that echoes around in space, making her suited for the band’s slower and more emotive songs. “Emergency Equipment and Exits” is built around her own bass line and its repeated lyric, “it’s a long way down,” conveys a state of mental precarity, like we’re all internally teetering on the edge of a cliff. “Shadowcasting” is constructed similarly, with words about being unsatisfied and alienated — “lost and never found.” The band’s songs are intentionally ambiguous, with brief and vague lyrics that allow this kind of interpretation, which is a refreshing departure from music that wants to tell you how to feel. This is a why Just Look at That Sky, in addition to kicking ass on a basic musical level, feels more thoughtful and nuanced than just about any other album I’ve heard this year. Nothing the band does feels easy or simple and all of its intense emotions are earned.

With some groups that have two singers, it feels almost like you’re hearing two different bands depending on who is fronting which song. Ganser pulls off the balancing act where the singers are distinct, but their differences in style bring out a wider range of moods that are still part of one unified concept. Garofalo and Gaines are each articulating a different facet of the human experience, and in concert, they capture the complicated and occasionally contradictory feelings people have while surrounded by illogical chaos.