The global community oscillates between “staggering through” and “emerging from” a persistent global pandemic now accompanied by a soundtrack of ongoing war and economic crisis. It’s almost like the verse in Jason Isbell‘s “Hope the High Road” is repeated with each successive year. “Last year was a son of a bitch / For nearly everyone we know.”
In the midst of this, Mt. Joy—the Los Angeles (by way of Philadelphia) indie folk-rock band—offer up a measured defense of a certain joie de vivre with the release of their third studio album, Orange Blood. Written during the pandemic’s cessation of regular touring for most bands and venues, this latest installment by Mt. Joy expands the range of their psychedelic-tinged folk. The record moves from reflective acoustic pieces to stadium anthem pieces, all the while cross-pollinating laid-back LA sounds with Philly soul and a dash of Haight-Ashbury for good measure.
The title track, “Orange Blood”, finds frontperson Matt Quinn painting a desert landscape where the clouds and the sun wrestle distracted consciousnesses to more contemplative states of being. In the band’s release of the single on Instagram, Quinn frames the song’s origin in a transformative trip he took to the Joshua Tree National Park with his girlfriend. Their sojourn into the desert was marked by the immense beauty that lingers on the horizon of all that is, calling us into new forms of consciousness and connection. “Free from the chains of our ego / Pain is what makes us equal.” Echoing U2‘s recognition in their 1987 album inspired by the same topography that, under the desert sky, a realization comes that “we need new dreams tonight”, Orange Blood is a message of mindfulness in the maelstrom of contemporary life.
“Evergreen” plays with the existential dilemma of fleeting finite existence where we are traveling “along a road where everything dies” with the hopeful reminder that meaning comes precisely in the unscripted journey (“But if I knew the way / Life would be pointless”). The listener engages in this philosophical reflection within a percussive rocker designed to lead a live audience into a frenzy of connection and euphoria, enacting a sacrament of communion at the heart of this mess we call life.
In “Lemontree”, Mt. Joy draw on another California citrus metaphor in a play on the “when life gives you lemons” adage where hope lies in the “sugar water in the breeze”. The song also displays the band’s expanding range as an acoustic number seemingly at home in a coffee house open mic until the kick drum boom carries it to a stadium hymn of celebration. One can see how this song could be an essential tool in their live arsenal, tapping into the song’s recognition of the ‘connected energy” that is the good of every soul.
Despite the album’s interspersed references to acid and weed, Orange Blood is more about survival and the flourishing that comes from being in the moment than a call to escapism. In “Phenomenon”, Mt. Joy celebrate our fleeting existence in a lush Philadelphia soul arrangement that would be at home in the early yacht rock style of Hall and Oates’ catalog. The tenuousness of things has marked so much experience in the light of a global pandemic, but here the band finds the more profound wisdom that this is the human condition at every moment.
The closing track, “Bathroom Light”, puts this in relief. “…[S]omeday we must return the movies in our brains / And these moments we can’t fake / Yes, the angels never leak the expiration date.” In this album, Mt. Joy demonstrate their remarkable recent success was no anomaly, and they make their pitch to be taken seriously as a stellar musical group with something important to say. There are flashes of light amid the murkiness that threatens us, whether in the grand orange sun scapes of a desert sky or the flickering neon glow of the bar bathroom light. “I won’t question it / I won’t mess with it / If it’s there / Go grab it.” Orange Blood is a compelling statement for Mt. Joy’s continued growth and a ten-song invitation to, as the group stated in an online lyrics page comment on the title track, “to tap into our subconscious and just sit still on this beautiful planet and be present”.