Best albums of 2020: #4 No Joy “Motherhood”

Someone needs to get on updating the Wikipedia entry on No Joy. Calling the project led by Jasamine White-Gluz a shoegaze band now feels like a mislabel, especially after you listen to their excellent fourth record, “Motherhood”.

When I first got into Montreal-based No Joy six or seven years ago, the term seemed more apt. White-Gluz had just released a second album under the moniker, working as a duo with Laura Lloyd. Both “Wait to pleasure” and the debut that preceded it, “Ghost blonde”, were steeped in fuzzy and hazy guitar trails blazed by My Bloody Valentine, Ride, and Lush. But there was a progression between the two albums, a hint that this act wasn’t just here to recreate and celebrate the original scene, a trope adopted by other ‘nu-gazers’.

After a third album, 2015’s “More faithful”, that was recorded by a more fleshed-out quartet, didn’t seem to move the marker far enough, White-Gluz took hold of the reins and took a break from recording LPs, in favour of a series of EPs, each striking out in a different exploratory direction. Perhaps most notable of these was her collaboration with Pete ‘Sonic Boom’ Kember in 2018. She completely stepped away from her comfort zone here, dispensing with her trusty guitar and traded it for synthesizers. The resulting four songs on “No Joy / Sonic Boom” might not be what you’d expect from either artist but are definitely a compelling listen for fans of both.

For “Motherhood”, Jasmine White-Gluz picked up her guitar again but didn’t leave behind the synths. She picked up the shoegaze that she started this journey with but threw it in a shake-and-bake bag with some trip hop, hardcore, ambient, and a bunch of the other sounds she’s toyed with in the five years between LPs. Yet instead of sounding scattered and overwhelming, the eleven songs here are quite cohesive and have sense of direction. This is likely because the album has a singular driving force and her’s is an ethereal voice that works the room with confidence. I can’t wait to see what she’ll do next.

My three picks for you are actually the album’s first three tracks and first three songs released in advance of it and the varied sounds are a good indication of the album’s explosive makeup.

“Dream rats“: The video for track two on “Motherhood” was released just a few days before the unveiling of the album itself. The song features the vocals of Jasamine’s sister, Alissa, the lead vocalist for Swedish death metal band Arch Enemy, a collaboration that the sisters haven’t been able to venture into together since both were very young. And the tune fits like a glove for both because after a short lazy intro, the song bursts forth into a furious pace that sounds like it might venture deep into thrash scream-o territory. Then, the shimmering, dancing synths kick in and it all gets dreamy again. The vocals, too, save for some perfectly placed growls, are ethereal and wispy, flitting and fleeting deep in the mix, the words all but indecipherable, ringing angelic against such a black, black, black backdrop of sound.

“Nothing will hurt”: For a track that starts out sounding a discordant industrial number, the second single really transforms into a dance floor burner reminiscent of Blondie, albeit with some disjointed flair. White-Gluz has said of its recording: “our mission in the studio was that no idea was too weird to try. That led to us squishing bananas into very expensive microphones to get textured percussion noises, shoving kitchen knives into guitar necks to create a perfect slide guitar sound and adding some Primus-inspired slap bass.” Yeah, it’s crazy but it works. It is gazing excitedly at shiny dancing shoes, stabbing guitars and rifling rhythms and shiny synths, oh my.

“Birthmark”: The opening track on the album and very first peek at the project’s first new album in five years hits like a ton of bricks. It’s the sound of 90s shoegaze gone 90s alternative dance. Think Chapterhouse’s second album “Blood music” or anything by Curve. Like the rest of the album, Jasamine White-Gluz had a lot of fun with this one in the studio, finding use for a set of bongos and apparently, a broken clarinet. The bongos are definitely front and centre and form the basis of a dance floor beckoning drum rhythm but I challenge you to point out the clarinet in the wall of sound she’s created in the loops and loops and loops. The party sound belies the subject matter, which according to White-Gluz, has its basis in the experience of visiting a relative in a senior living facility.

Check back next Thursday for album #3. In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. The Strokes “The new abnormal”
9. Venus Furs “Venus Furs”
8. Bright Eyes “Down in the weeds, where the world once was”
7. The Beths “Jump rope gazers”
6. The Rentals “Q36”
5. Secret Machines “Awake in the brain chamber”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.

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