Joseph fuse their folk foundation with pop and rock tendencies to develop a delicious, if not inconsistent, soundscape.
When sister trio Allison, Meegan, and Natalie Closner first released their debut album, Native Dreamer Kin, in 2014, the Portland-based indie outlet felt like nothing short of a revelation. Merging together the natural, harmonious blend of strengths exclusive to sibling-fronted bands that we’ve been seeing for decades with the Everly Brothers, the Beach Boys, and more recently with the Secret Sisters and First-Aid Kit, they seemed like yet another individualistic, organic modern folk collective capable of bubbling up to the top.
For most listeners, however, Joseph first had the spotlight shined upon them following the release of their explosive lead single on I’m Alone, No You’re Not, “White Flag”. There is rarely a space for debate on the quality of this particular song, which, with its clap and stomp-along foundation met with tenacious vocals, makes for an indie summer staple if there ever were one. So, what truly remains is whether or not the remainder of the album’s tracks can relate themselves firmly to the quality of “White Flag”, as well as an acknowledgment of the band’s evolution since the aforementioned Native Dreamer Kin.
Even with “White Flag”, after all, it’s abundantly evident that Joseph has undergone a musical overhaul in regards to production. Their once completely acoustic foundation has been almost entirely restructured with the presence of heightened production values. Once, the band could have been firmly planted within a box labelled “folk” and that would have been totally accurate, and there are downfalls, all admitted, with their evolution from an acoustic band into one that has come to represent an amalgam of various musical ideas ranging from to rock, funk and orchestral.
Even “White Flag” opens up with a drum kit and a looped harmony track that makes it a marked departure from their previous work, and not everything remains as strong as their previous efforts as it does when put under a pop lens. When there are highs, they are decidedly a “launched into the stratosphere” sort of high, as it is with the beautiful and soaring “Planets”, with enough of a barebones and atmospheric production to create something that truly highlights the band’s best features -- their incredible harmonies and ability to produce beautiful melodies. In fact, the same could be said about the album’s other greatest points, such as in “I Don’t Mind” and “Canyon”, which do more with a less in-your-face production to focus on factors that would emphasize their respective themes of yearning and tenacity. "Sweet Dreams" in particular is a wildly haunting acoustic-meets-orchestral development that is incredibly scintillating.
Other songs do not have as much of an impact, always featuring interesting musical ideas and potential themes, but sometimes coming across without the strength that they would have hoped for. This occurs on a musical level of application with “SOS (Overboard)”, which feels more like it belongs on a late-1900s radio hit than an indie rock or folk record, and on a lyrical level with “Blood & Tears”, which, despite its playing around with soul and funk tendencies (especially on its chorus), falls a little bit above flat with generic, third-person lyricism.
At the same time, even the album’s low points feel like a dagger through the heart to consider as lesser -- to their credit, Joseph’s harmonies remain decisively on-point and evocative of the feel they were attempting to get at with even their lesser songs. Everything comes together so impressively well on I’m Alone, No You’re Not on an overall sonic level that it couldn’t be associated with anything less than a strong recommendation to give it a listen. It isn’t a perfect record, but it establishes Joseph as a tour-de-force band in the 21st century that is very much capable of leading the charge for multi-faceted, female-fronted indie wonders in the future. They’re wildly talented, and that much is highlighted here.