Mt. Joy is a place where the style clover of Bruce Springsteen, Counting Crows and Mumford & Sons grows aplenty but where above the low vegetation line each track thrives in the rarefied air and rocky terrain of emotive indie rock, free of the city-lights production favoured by the likes of Deathcab For Cutie or The National in favour of a rootsy, country-tinged authenticity for fans of Wilco, Whitney et al. Opener ‘I’m Your Wreck’ might bear the same layered vocals favoured by your singer-songwriters of choice but with a down home honky-tonk riff that keeps it firmly planted in the bed of credibility. So, while there is a huge pop album lurking under the surface here there is much greater depth. Take lead release ‘Silver Lining’, that great American bar-room singalong (that is all about addiction), or closer ‘Younger Days’ with a certain penumbra only carved from personal experience.
Mt. Joy formed as a creative rekindling between Philadelphia high school friends Matt Quinn (vocals, guitar) and Sam Cooper (guitar) reuniting in Los Angeles thanks to the serendipitous intricacies of life. Debut single ‘Astrovan’ (also featured here) racked up millions of streams with little fanfare catapulting the band onto festival bills and national tours in 2017 before eventually catching the attention of Dualtone Records who hooked them up with producer Jon Gilbert (The Kills) to start work on Mt. Joy the album.
The finished product balances a nostalgia for the Midwest with topical anti-American sentiment buoyed up by the West Coast sun. Lyrically, Steinbeckian themes of difficult relationships and substance abuse persist in an often darkly surreal setting but the tone is at times upbeat as if on the brink of redemption; where the dream realism overarches without detracting from the real messages within. The fingers-bleeding guitars of the title track or the paranoid but gently rousing ‘St George’ reflect a blue-collar stoicism rather than any kind of patriotism.
‘Sheep’ is the most overtly post-Trump, oddly loungey, with an unexpected UK indie vibe but cutting Born on the Fourth of July narrative. In fact it’s Mt Joy’s odd forays into loose bluesy territory that lets this debut down slightly and at 13 tracks it could easily have been trimmed down a little. But while “Jesus drives an Astrovan” might be the most Reef thing I’ve heard in ages and the title track is not quite Two Gallants, others like ‘Cardinal’ and a raucous ode to commitment, ‘Jenny Jenkins’ (“it was enough to be alive”), tentatively step out along bolder musical paths.
At its most anxious Mt Joy exists at the frayed edges of American folk music already representing a country still only 150 years on from a bloody civil war, but where shards of hope and optimism cut through the current mood like a knife. So, whilst serving as a metaphor for the fragility of democratic union, for a band that have come so far in such a small space of time, it also represents everything they have left behind in their speedy musical ascent, where dreams are perhaps made to come true.