The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Familiar Science Kamyar Salavati , May 18th, 2022 08:45

JOYFULTALK goes free jazz on new album, Familiar Science

“Nobody panics when everything goes ‘according to plan’ … Introduce a little anarchy! Upset the established order!”. These were the infamous words of the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s (2008) film, The Dark Knight. As the villain implies, when chaos reaches its peak, it becomes horrifying. So is the mood in JOYFULTALK’s latest record. Composed by Jay Crocker, the multi-disciplinary musician and artist, the record reproduces the idea of chaos even in the flexible loose lines of its cover art (designed by Crocker himself), in contrast to the previous cover arts of his works. After Crocker’s debut album in 2016, this is the fourth from the Canadian-born sound artist and composer.

The album starts with extravagant glissando-like electronic tones, then accompanied by non-worded human voices which later start to act as a riff. A seemingly incompatible beat is added up to the mixture, creating a polyrhythmic atmosphere. If all these are not enough, the saxophone arrives to add up to the havoc; both repeating a sawed phrase and playing new chromatic melodies. It makes a proper signpost for the whole uncanny atmosphere of The Familiar Science.

Compared to the previous records of JOYFULTALK, The Familiar Science is deeply rooted in free jazz. One can hear lots of overblowing on the sax – take ‘Particle Riot’, for instance –, polyrhythms, non-metric melodies, and most noticeably, atonality. ‘Particle Riot’, as its title suggests, is the anthropic riot of a single line of the saxophone slightly accompanied by a piano on a solitary presence of percussion, like a mentally disordered patient in a bedlam who strives in agony to be free from the walls its solitary confinement.

As much as the sax melody lines are usually (not always) ‘free’, the guitar solos commonly remain more limited and lyrical to keep to central tones and melodies. The saxophonists’ rhythmic complexity, atonality, and eeriness are found most of all in the nightmarish vertigo of ‘Hagiography’, a piece that could be interpreted as a catastrophic description of the lives of the saints. At certain points, it leads to free rhythms in all its layers. Despite being heavily reliant on free jazz, The Familiar Science also borrows from some other music genres, just like some previous works of the artist. This is mostly found in the Caribbean-derived music of ‘Blessed for a Min’.

Leaving aside the disappointing quality of the mix and mastering of the album, which sometimes makes it very difficult for the listener to divide and comprehend the various layers of these thick-textured songs, The Familiar Science has some very catchy moments. Complex, melancholic, and chaotic; this is what we hear in JOYFULTALK’s latest release.