Spanish Love Songs – ‘No Joy’

By Andy Joice

Returning for their fourth album, Spanish Love Songs have a difficult challenge upcoming. Their previous albums have all been adored, with 2018’s ‘Schmaltz’ introducing many to the LA-formed quintet, and 2020’s ‘Brave Faces Everyone’ being the perfect soundtrack to the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. Telling stories of how dystopian the world is, it perfectly encapsulated a time where many millions felt disconnected and abandoned.

But if ‘Brave Faces’ was like holding your breath so you don’t drown, ‘No Joy’ is the slow realisation that your feet can touch the bottom of the pool. Instead of accepting fate, it’s about standing on your own two feet and being blissfully aware that things can and will get better; and a lot of this is due to frontperson Dylan Slocum’s extraordinary ability for writing songs that are so minutely specific, they somehow feel universal.

Whatever Slocum touches, no matter how bleak or macabre, turns to poetic beauty. Take, for example, opening track ‘Lifers’ – one of a dozen examples in fact. The closing verse very clearly depicts a car crash in detail (albeit in the guise of a potential intrusive thought). A broken wrist, a head split wide open, they shouldn’t feel hopeful and reassuring. And yet because of the framing, the payoff of “You smile for my benefit, ‘cause no you aren’t”, the way the instrumentation allows Slocum to really punch the delivery; it brings a strange warmth to your heart.

He’s avidly said this album is “full of love songs”, perhaps a little tongue in cheek, but the reality is true. A lot of the context is built around the love for other people, be it his family (alive and, sadly, passed), his wife and friends, and from the perspective of the characters he builds. ‘Middle Of Nine’ and ‘I’m Gonna Miss Everything’ both touch on his direct family with a grieving nature that ends more hopeful, and is clearly adorned with love and adoration.

Instrumentally, ‘No Joy’ is more expansive than their previous records. It perhaps shouldn’t come as a surprise given the ‘Brave Faces, Etc’ remix LP they released a year after ‘BF, Everyone’, however it needs addressing. With elements of New Wave scattered throughout, from the synthy backings to the meandering melodies, it’s far more layered and dexterous than their previous records. Similarly, the vibrato in Slocum’s voice is a little less noticeable and leaned into, as if he’s more confident with his vocal ability and the strengths and weaknesses within it. There’s also plenty of harmonies, as well as the occasional inclusion of vocoder lines acting as harmonies.

If you’re a purist and don’t want your band to evolve to their truest form, you’re well within your right to stop reading (or listening). Their old albums will still be there, however just know that it’s a deliberate move by the band to keep things fresh.

The heaviest use of the synthesisers is within ‘Mutable’, a near acoustic track that uses the synths to create a sparse and atmospheric ballad, all thanks to Meredith Van Woert’s delicate use of keys. Similarly, ‘Exit Bags’ is a more traditional acoustic track, with an opening melody from Kyle McAulay that’s as beautiful as it is haunting that repeats throughout the track. Keys and synths again play a big part in helping to build the picture of love and loss. It’s a genuinely special track that will pull at your heart strings in a number of ways.

‘Here You Are’ has a serious earworm chorus that will undoubtably be sang back to the band at any live showing and features a wandering bassline from Trevor Dietrich that really helps tie the rhythms down. Closing track ‘Re-Emerging Signs Of The Apocalypse’ is the band at their most Springsteen – high praise, but apt indeed. Soaring verses, big harmonies and incredibly tight rhythms really portray a love of americana.

‘No Joy’ is another masterpiece to add to Spanish Love Songs’ discography; a more mature and accepting narrative matches their more developed and measured sound. Evocative and hopeful, there really isn’t a better band at expressing millennial existence in such exquisite detail. And if this doesn’t end up near the top of your Album Of The Year list, you’ve given your age away.

ANDY JOICE

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