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.

Spotify Playlist: “Loomers”

In a post last year, I mentioned how My Bloody Valentine’s “Loomer” sounds exactly the way I want all music to sound due to its contrast of heavy guitars and light, feminine vocals. This playlist is a collection of songs that feel similarly to me and are the basis of my theory that “Loomer” spawned its own micro-genre of music that falls somewhere between shoegaze and metal. The songs range from artists that are doing essentially My Bloody Valentine tributes (Fleeting Joys) to bands who push the principles in “Loomer” as far as possible to explore more adventurous musical ground (metal groups like SubRosa and True Widow).

For most of music’s history, loud guitar noise has been strongly associated with machismo and was considered ugly or abrasive. I love this style of music because it twists those preconceptions with the vocals, resulting in songs that have fascinating dualities: they are ugly and beautiful, strong and fragile, masculine and feminine. These themes all get blended together in the music and start to blur these arbitrary gender lines. (I just read The Left Hand of Darkness if you can’t tell.)

On a less academic level, listening to these songs always makes me think of the apocalypse. The image the sound creates in my head is of a lone voice singing while the world crumbles around them.  

#10: No Joy – “More Faithful”

I continue to think No Joy are the best current band at taking the familiar sound of shoegaze and turning it into something that feels fresh and new. More Faithful feels more stripped down than its predecessors, dropping some of the band’s massive guitar riffs and putting more emphasis on songcraft.

While some fans may miss the ear-splitting guitar maelstroms from some of their previous albums (*raises hand*), More Faithful impressively pushes the band in a new direction without fundamentally changing who they are. Jasamine White-Gluz’s vocals are more central to the songs now (though still not very decipherable), and Laura Lloyd’s guitar playing is more subtle while still having the noisy shoegaze sound that is key to the band’s chemistry.

While I’ve loved all their music, I think No Joy have often been perceived as a derivative band that is just cloning previous shoegaze artists. More Faithful shuts down a lot of those arguments and proves that the band can make original, exciting music within the shoegaze framework.