Sunday Spins | Joywave – Possession
Album Review | June 7, 2020 | Words and Photos by Cassie Preston
I discovered Joywave when I booked the Bastille show back in October 2019, and you can read the review here. That night, frontman, Daniel Armbruster, shamelessly plugged Joywave’s new 2020 album Possession and upcoming tour. Fast forward to the spring; we’re amidst a pandemic and quarantining in our homes until further notice. I can say with utmost certainty that bands like Joywave, tour managers, venues, and concert photographers like myself are uncomfortably settling into the idea that live music won’t be back until 2021. Despite social and economic changes, Joywave powered through to release their third studio album Possession, just days before the nationwide quarantine went into effect. Joywave hasn’t released a careless album, so buckle up because we’ve got a lot of baggage to unpack.
Possession opens with “Like a Kennedy”, an eerie song about the constant media exposure and the consuming inability to determine what takes precedence when everything appears equally important. This haunting song is the best one on the album by far, if you’re asking me. Which you are because you’re reading this. The next two songs, “Coming Apart” and “Half Your Age” are upbeat and loud, I assume to compensate for the strong but dreamy opener, “Like A Kennedy”. “Coming Apart” subtly opens with a Korean greeting that was originally recorded on The Golden Record, a reference of both images and sounds for extraterrestrials to help understand the story of Earth. The song itself examines the differences you see when standing so close to something, only to eventually stand back to see what is really important at a distance. Joywave has placed all this information into a song that comes in right under 3 minutes. “Half Your Age” is sort of just about this bounce around between the pressure to do something monumental with your life or career and settling into something not so special. Not everyone can be an Olympic gymnast or Taylor Swift or an entrepreneurial icon that everyone forgets was a part of the South African Apartheid. Sometimes you’re just a really good real estate agent, an exceptional mother, or a nurse. Have you ever become so hyper-focused on one singular thing in your life when there are so many other variables happening around you out of your control? I don’t have time to explain that jump, you need to keep up. The answer is I have, and frequently cope by doing this. Well, that’s “Obsession”, the fourth song on the album; “I just need something to get me through the night, a new obsession, something to hold in my sights”.
So far, Joywave has covered the JFK assassination, aliens, Elon Musk, and mental illness. Do you think that Joywave has lost their steam yet? Of course not, they’re only four songs in. Do you still think this album isn’t creepy? Alright. Then listen to the first ten seconds of, “Blank Slate”. Next up “F.E.A.R” which is about exactly what you think. Armbruster begins the song, “There’s things that I’d like to do That scare me through and through So many frights I’ve known Yeah, it’s hard to let them go”. Whether he’s talking about being within the confines of our own mind and what dark secrets lurk there or the potential for doomsday, it’s just a miracle that we get out of bed. Well, maybe not in quarantine but, I was trying to prove a point. “Funny Thing About Opinions” opens with this unnerving Jack in the Box type of tune which usually means we’re going down another dark and twisty inner workings of Armbruster’s mind. But actually I find this song pretty entertaining because it’s obviously about fighting with your Aunt Janette in 160 words or less in the comment section of Facebook about whether or not having to wear a mask out in public is a form of Socialism. Joywave circles back around to one of their keystone themes for the album in “Who Owns Who”, which puts on this display this struggle over ownership. Armbruster might be referencing this transcendent weight of the expectations that our interpersonal relationships have over us. And obviously, “if you’re asking me, it must not be you”.
The last four songs wrap up the album, beginning with “Blastoffff”, which is either about touring … or aliens, again. But I’m really hoping it’s about touring. The song speeds and slows almost like they simulate the feel of touring life and returning home to upstate New York. The title track, “Possession” is creepy and odd; I think if you wanted to use serious imagination skills, this could potentially be a love song. But not in the way of falling in love; more like the worry of being inadequate for the other person or worse, the other person seeing all your flaws in the light of day. “No Shoulder” is the second to last song on this album, and probably my least favorite song on the album. Honestly, I feel like I’ve been trying to the best of my ability to untangle this record like some Navajo Code Talker in World War II. What’s more infuriating is that Joywave could probably make some obscure and creepy but catchy song on the subject of those decoders with ease. Despite my dislike for “No Shoulder”, the song has one of the most sincere lyrics I’ve found on the album, “it’s possession not possessions that’ll finally set me free”.
Joywave finishes out with “Mr. Eastman”, and I was concerned that the band wouldn’t be able to come full circle and round out the experience of their Possession album but they deliver. The song’s opening lyric, “Don’t discuss yourself too much” born from “Blastoffff”, along with references from “Half Your Age” about living a normal life, and the unsettling worry over doomsday propaganda from “F.E.A.R.”. The song ends with, “Looks like you chose me You’ve got an army Lay down on both knees You’ve got what I need” as a final illustration of Joywave’s struggle with power and artistic control from, “Who Owns Who”.
Joywave’s third album, Possession is unsettling, strange, and filled with careless ranting if you’re giving it the worst review imaginable. But I’m not going to. Each track is layered and laced with political innuendos, obsession, media burn out, ownership, single-mindedness, and of course, possession on both personal and societal levels. The band has meticulously curated every chord and lyric with clear intent as to what the message is. There is just a large possibility that the message is odd, quirky, and sometimes, downright creepy. But that doesn’t mean that it’s a bad album! It’s just a lot to digest and I wouldn’t suggest delving into the details as deeply as I did. Just take Possession for what it is, a fantastically haunting album you want to keep spinning.
- Like a Kennedy
- Coming Apart
- Half Your Age
- Blank Slate
- Funny Thing About Opinions
- Who Owns Who?
- No Shoulder
- Mr. Eastman