The act of rearranging, synonymous with shifts and movement, aptly captures the emotional and musical path undertaken by indie-folk collective Mt. Joy. Their sophomore album, Rearrange Us, released by Dualtone Records, is a portrait of melancholy taking root then transforming into contentment. Working with Tucker Martine (My Morning Jacket, the Decemberists, Modest Mouse), the album emphasizes moving past emotional and mental struggles with intentionality. Through vibrant imagery and inventive musicality, Rearrange Us showcases Mt. Joy’s growth as individuals and musicians.
Rearrange Us demonstrates the band’s penchant for tempo fluctuations to shift the mood. “Bug Eyes” begins with a wistful drawl eclipsed once the tempo speeds up and the full band kicks in. When lead singer Matt Quinn intensifies his vocals to sing, “Let it kill / Let it love / Let it lie / Let it fall,” he is intentionally obscuring the track’s emotional delivery. It’s impossible to decipher whether the tone is negative or positive. But when he expresses the sentiment “to live and die and see the world through someone else’s eyes”, he reveals his hand. The calculated obfuscation ensures the listener will garner meaning reflecting their own standpoint. Much as a bug’s segmented eyes see different parts at once, Mt. Joy similarly calls to reconsider a singular viewpoint from varying perspectives.
For Mt. Joy, change isn’t always positive, nor is it welcomed. “Every Holiday” spins a malaise-laden slow jam imparting the indignity of “the warm earth, cold words, and men that make decisions / Lying on the TV ’cause the money skips the women.” Rather than cultivated cheer and goodwill, Mt. Joy remind of the unwavering depression gripping many. Reiterating this attitude in “Acrobats”, Quinn snarkily quips, “it’s always Christmas where you are.” Here Mt. Joy pose an astute question: what’s the point of cheer if it’s fake? For the band, inauthenticity is problematic. But as Rearrange Us unequivocally states, this feeling doesn’t have to endure.
On “Come With Me”, the band communicate an earnest belief in “getting your swagger back” while “Death” implores “Get your mind off it boy / There’s room to grow.” Perhaps this unintentionally belittles severe mental health challenges, but Mt. Joy’s purpose is to reaffirm growth. In doing so, Mt. Joy intentionally disavows complacency, especially apparent when Quinn sings, “Come on, rearrange us / And tell us that the pain don’t change much at all / It’s just a part of growing up.” Considering its place as the title track, Mt. Joy are using this song and project to demarcate their maturity as people and sophistication as songwriters and musicians.
Rearrange Us‘s embrace of authentic change aligns with the evolution of the band’s sound. “Have Faith” has a slight gospel feel while “My Vibe Your Vibe” renders psychedelic energy largely due to Jackie Miclau’s bewitching keyboarding. The title track replaces Mt. Joy’s telltale Americana with a melodious funk sensation. Certainly, let’s give the band accolades for attempting to break out of the oft-times confining folk-Americana conventions. However, the album periodically lacks the arresting musical complexity of their debut self-titled album. “Let Loose” in particular is lackluster, while “Have Faith’s” brevity, a whole 45 seconds, is dubious.
The final four tracks listened to in consecutive order exhibits the album’s overarching narrative: “Witness”, “Us”, “Become”, and “Strangers” is a break-up saga. Emotional growth often leads to personal ruptures, the experience as painful as the realization that it’s time for dissolution. “Witness” and “Us” both cling to memories and replaces the resentment evident earlier on the album with unadulterated emotional pain. The music stirs and grows, never acquiescing to the underlying rage, but instead, makes space for melancholy. The emotional baggage is heavy and palpably cumbersome. Repeating “And I am over you” is akin to a mantra that Quinn needs to hold to keep reality in check. Staying true to Rearrange Us‘s commitment to positive change, “Strangers” resolves the atmospheric tension with the affirmation that “love will rearrange us”. For Mt. Joy, this belief is the foundation for an album that leaves a heartfelt impression.