Since his 2012 debut, Essex-based singer/songwriter Joe Boyd has been showing a class example of DIY music. First, he formed Agony & Ecstasy Records to release his LP, Totem, with which he immediately made a name for himself in the industry. He then spent the next three years accompanied by Matt Curd on bass and Cameron Morrell on drums, gathering a massive amount of airplay and live shows, playing alongside the likes of Pendulum, Groove Armada and Mark Ronson; while finding the time to release a second LP in 2013, Gutter Moon. Now that it’s about time we heard again from the trio, it comes as no surprise that their upcoming release was self-produced and self-recorded in just one day in a studio in Colchester.
And as it happens, I Survive I, which is surely meant to be read as the word ‘survive’ in pipe brackets, is everything as exciting and fresh as the Essex musician’s previous records. We get another helping of his signature spiced-up pop/rock, with an array of influences ranging from jazz to punk to ’80s rock, with extra infectious hooks and catchy riffs thrown in all throughout. As for his vocal ability, Joe Boyd has never suffered a lack of it, but in this record he seems to have grown skill-wise and we hear him experimenting with different styles and pouring his heart out like never before.
Theme-wise, Joe Boyd’s third outing seems to be a direct sequel to Gutter Moon. The singer continues to tell post-heartbreak tales: ‘Hotel Suicide’ (“Real love, I can do without it”) and ‘If I Had A Heart’ mirror the sentiment of ‘Bury My Heart’ and ‘Dine Alone’ taken off his previous LP. However, he manages to channel these feelings into perfectly balanced songs that one can easily sing along and tap to, rather than produce a string of soppy ballads; and in a strange and beautiful way, the sunken feelings of pain and rejection he sings about are compensated by lifting the mood of anyone that listens to them.
Inarguably, the album’s moments of brilliance are the beginning and ending of ‘Junk’. Its first and last 45 seconds are a piece of naked perfection, where Joe Boyd sings almost acapella of something whose lyrics may be taken as an ode to his crotch (“Junk you may be, junk you are mine”), or perhaps a blunt but genuine declaration of love. The next track, ‘Meat’, continues down the same path of raw emotions (“Don’t be afraid of someone who’s made of skin and bones”), a fact I enjoy since it reminds me of one of the most unadulterated love songs in recent music history – ‘Bones’ by The Killers (“Don’t you wanna feel my bones on your bones? It’s only natural”).
The only flaws I could find with the record were the somewhat excessive and unnecessary guitar solos, which he has the absolute right to do since he performs under his own name rather than as part of a band, but at times sounded as if he was overstating that by bragging about his skills as a guitarist. This struck me the most during ‘Junk’: the song that combines the album’s highest and lowest points. Its middle section, which consisted of otherwise alright guitar work that may have fitted perfectly anywhere else, had nothing to do with the sheer beauty of the beginning and the ending of this particular track: it was the sonic equivalent of destroying a perfectly cooked juicy burger by drowning it in barbecue sauce.
Despite such moments, I Survive I is an overall scintillating if not all throughout brilliant record, and is the perfect set of songs if you feel like rejoicing over someone else’s misery.
I Survive I is out 9 February via Agony & Ecstasy Records