Joe Christmas: North to the Future (Tooth and Nail, 1996)
The first Joe Christmas cd, Upstairs Overlooking, was a lesson in how fun and strange an indie rock band can be. Loud, screeching guitars, nonsensical lyrics, and a vocalist who sounds like the guy next door characterized the release. Indeed, it was those qualities, along with the band’s penchant for writing catchy songs (“coupleskate”, for example) that made Upstairs Overlooking such a classic.
So, how does Joe Christmas follow up their debut? By writing the same kind of fun, rocking songs, burying the vocals in feedback?
Joe Christmas followed up their debut with a cd that may surpass their debut in terms of its staying power. And they did it with slow to mid-tempo, softer songs. North to the Future is a remarkably mellow and tuned down affair. While there are moments of full-throttle rock (“babyshoes” for instance), most songs are soft, with sparse arrangements. This approach brings more attention to the vocals of Zach. He sings poignant lyrics with his guy-next-door voice. On North to the Future, the lyrics are a little deeper, soul-searching, and ultimately moving. The topics usually don’t stray too far from “the boy meets girl, boy and girl break up” topic, but that doesn’t hinder the gems that Zach sometimes sings. Check out the killer lyrics from “dreaming for the gold”: “If you think that you’re the only one standing here, then maybe it is time for you to pack your things and get right out of here”. Alone, these lyrics may not necessarily stand out, but sung by Zach, the lyrics sting to the core of the soul. Once I read in a review of this same cd that North to the Future gave geeks who struggle with boy-girl relationships their anthem of empowerment…with lines like that, I can see why!
The cd ends with two mainly instrumental songs, “I ruined it” and “reprise”. These two wonderful songs showcase Joe Christmas‘ ability to paint pictures with their music. Again, my words fail…I wish I was a good writer. Simply put, Joe Christmas, with North to the Future, have created a cd of lasting beauty; at times dreamy, at times slowcore, at times rocking, at times tender, at times vicious, but always sweet! So get it at tooth and nail, while you still can. (PS: Zach has moved on to Summer Hymns, an equally great band!!)
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