Last Friday, Vance Joy released his new album, “Nation of Two”, a mundane collection of songs featuring virtually the same arrangement and identical subject matter.
This indie pop offering is not entirely unredeeming, however; rather, among its more positive attributes is a polished, crisp production style. Despite the potentially irritating musical content of the album, the production value is never grating nor amateurish. Similarly, the arrangements and executions of the songs are not sloppy, loose or erratic. That said, they are unfortunately repetitive and generally unstimulating.
Despite the pristine production, Vance Joy simply finds no opportunity or motivation to delve into any challenging subjects, or attempt anything musically bold or spontaneous. Nearly every song features his omnipresent acoustic rhythm guitar, light percussion and occasional blasts from a crescendo of backing instruments. The guitar is actually a well advised element of the arrangement, and a primary part of Vance Joy’s sound and motif. In fact, it is really the only thing genuinely grounding the songs at all by providing a dependable rhythm for the rest of the elements to be built upon.
The occasional explosions from the backing instruments give some depth and volume to the arrangements but also exude a certain level of confusion and lack of direction. For instance, on the second track of the album, “Lay It On Me,” just as the chorus emerges, an eruption of backing instruments occurs to cast against Vance Joy’s inimitable delivery. This sounds appealing in the abstract but this forceful blast of music lacks any defining emotion. It is not menacingly nor romantically dramatic, but rather is simply dramatic for the sake of being dramatic. Perhaps this compositional decision was made to break up the monotony of the light instrumentation featured at the start of the song. Whatever the reason, emotional depth is noticeably absent from just about every song on the album. The phenomena of palpably mindless backing instruments “complementing” soulless, lazy or slightly awkward lyrics also reoccurs on this album.
The songs themselves, though reasonably catchy, are not diverse in structure or substance. The first six tracks are practically indistinguishable from each other. They are all only a few minutes in length, concern some semi idealised vague, romantic storyline and feature almost the same compositional arrangement. That said, if you enjoy some accessible, concise indie pop love songs then this album is definitely right up your alley.
If you are more partial to challenging, complex music influenced by a variety of styles then this album will likely disappoint. At its lowest point, Nation of Two feels like the cynically stereotypical soundtrack to an independent romantic coming of age film or the music featured in a laptop commercial bluntly aimed at millenials. It is safe to assume the uniformity in song length is likely designed to accommodate radio or streaming convenience, and the lyrical uniformity intended to appeal to the expectations of Vance Joy’s devoted fans.
There are a few tracks that are modest departures from Vance Joy’s predilection for romance, such as the somewhat awkwardly nostalgic song, “Little Boy.” The song is somewhat conventional but at the same time more authentic and heartfelt than many of the other tracks on the album. The lyrical structure of the song “Bonnie and Clyde” is also slightly more clever than most of the other tracks. Though the relevance of Bonnie and Clyde to the actual song is fairly insignificant, a single reference to the Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway classic film based on the iconic criminals is made before it is callously used to drag the listener through another nostalgic romance tune.
All things considered, the album is an average collection of songs in this genre. Vance Joy is extremely secure in his artistic identity as well as his obligations to his fans. The songs are not life changing though the production is sharp, and the album is certainly consistent. Overall I would award the album a comfortable C rating.
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