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Perfect Gray Robert Barry , September 20th, 2021 08:49

Joyer's lates record may sound familiar – but maybe that's ok, finds Robert Barry

There is something reassuring about the fact that people are still making records like this. It’s like catching a glimpse of Curly Wurlys on sale in the local newsagent or James Bond on the telly at Christmas. Anachronistic, a little quaint, but charming, somehow, nonetheless. As soon as I put it on, I was like, huh? Ok…

You already know what Perfect Gray sounds like, more or less. The tempo is never less than about ninety BPM, and scarcely ever higher than a hundred. The drums plod and skip along in a loose – sometimes very loose – four-time. The guitars are consistently brittle and always playing in a minor key. The vocals delivered so lackadaisically sotto voce that were it not for the invention of highly sensitive dynamic microphones, powerful pre-amps, and digital compression plug-ins, they would be entirely inaudible beneath even the faint hum of ordinary room tone. There are flickers of electronics – and a few sounds that might be electronic or might just be badly recorded – but they pretty much never dominate or overwhelm. At some point in the 90s some guy called Greg almost certainly passed you a joint while a record kind of like this was playing on the stereo. Your ex-boyfriend who always insisted on wearing a beanie hat, even indoors at the height of summer, was most likely in a band pretty much like this.

But, you know what? I actually rather like this. I listened to it all the way through without once wanting to pull the headphone cord out of my computer and hurl the laptop across the room. I even bobbed my head a bit. Quite a bit, actually. I don’t even like all those bands that this kind of sounds like. I always hated Sparklehorse. Thought Grandaddy were absolute shit. Still find Low and the Microphones and Red House Painters and Songs:Ohio all intensely boring. Any reference to Slint in a band’s press release I have consistently regarded as a big Red Flag. But this is sort of warm and cold at the same time, sombre and vaguely yearning, unhurried yet anxious, both light and kinda heavy. It seems to hover just off the ground. It reminds me a bit of lots of very annoying US indie films set in Oregon, but it also kind of reminds me of Hu Bo’s sublimely miserablist An Elephant Sitting Still for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on.

Can I also just say, somewhat parenthetically, that I like the way Joyer have consistently chosen to foreground their recording apparatus here? There are several slightly jarring off-centre edits. Any ‘natural’ sense of near and far or clear and fuzzy is repeatedly toyed with in order to disturb and confuse any distinct picture of acoustic space. Artefacts of the recording equipment are foregrounded rather than artfully concealed. There is no pretence, here, of authenticity, immediacy, presence. That alone would make Joyer an infinitely more inviting prospect than most of their 90s early 00s forebears. Steve Albini would probably be appalled by the sound of this album and quite frankly fuck him and everything he stands for.

This record is a cardigan. You know that misshapen, moth-eaten old thing you have in the back of the wardrobe? The one you keep thinking about chucking out but never quite get round to actually chucking out? It’s unflattering, a little smelly in sort of a musty way. You wouldn’t wear it out. But sometimes, when the weather turns a certain way and you just want to hunch up on the sofa with a cup of something warm, you find yourself reaching for it and it’s just the ticket. I wouldn’t want to encourage more bands to go off and do this thing, but in some small way I’m very happy that this particular one is.