Review: Mt. Joy – Orange Blood
National Music Reviews
Mt. Joy = Wilco + Houndmouth + The Lumineers
Orange Blood is all the revelation of a psychedelic trip wrapped in the americana/soul/new age/rock package that Mt. Joy does so well. With each song, the music bounces, drifts, floats, swells and surges through you as you feel the emotional expansion of your mind. It’s all the cliches that The Beatles knew—love, light, happiness and truth (and, perhaps, drugs).
Based in Los Angeles with roots in Philadelphia, the members of this quintet haven’t changed since 2017. Consisting of Matt Quinn (lead vocals, guitar), Sam Cooper (lead guitar), Sotiris Eliopoulos (drums), Jackie Miclau (keyboard) and Michael Byrnes (bass), Mt. Joy have steadily developed their own unique sound and style. With Orange Blood, they continue this tradition.
In releasing four songs before the album—“Lemon Tree,” “Orange Blood,” “Evergreen” and “Bathroom Light”—Mt. Joy offered four different tastes of the newest collection: gritty, soulful, energetic and slow. As is common for this group, Miclau’s keyboard shares the spotlight with Cooper’s guitar, both driving their songs forward with energy and purpose. In their more upbeat songs, the staccato rhythms make it almost impossible to resist tapping your feet. The songs can be dancey, practically demanding a windows-down, summer car ride up the canyons. The choruses are catchy, and the music builds to passionate crescendos.
The song “Evergreen” follows this formula especially well. The second track of the collection, this song is a cliff jump into frigid water with a rush of adrenaline to kick off the album. It opens with a quick, distorted melody on electric guitar, joined by galloping drums and Quinn’s vocals. The chorus slides off the tongue, perfectly matched to the beat: “I’ll teach you to jump through / The holes in the road that changes / And trust you to want to / Be my evergreen daydream.” He draws out the word “evergreen” as the music soars into a Red Bull–fueled instrumental break.
With vocals characterized by clear vibrato and soulful grit, Quinn’s voice is remarkable, though he has a tendency to mumble or bite his words. While it sounds delightfully sexy, it’s often incoherent, which was especially true in their previous album, Rearrange Us. It’s a shame, because their lyrical creativity is a major strength. Orange Blood isn’t quite as unclear, but it certainly has its muddled moments.
While they can be hard to hear, taking the time to read the lyrics along with the songs is well worth the effort. Consistently, this band doesn’t hide their political beliefs. Delivered in a stripped-back, acoustic sound that’s reminiscent of The Lumineers-esque ballads like “Slow It Down,” Quinn belts out his progressive messages. “New President,” released during Trump’s time in office, calls for the removal of the “fascist clowns.” Orange Blood’s “Bang” calls attention to the surge of gun violence in this country and cop shootings: “How many more?” Quinn asks. “The cops don’t care.” He mentions the world’s pollution issues in “Ruins,” satirically suggesting, “We’ll just melt all the plastic to the sea.” It’s a tasteful challenge to both the leaders and the citizens of the world to start taking responsibility.
Since its early release, “Lemon Tree” was a standout track for me. Like most of the songs on the album, it begins slow and acoustic. The lyrics cleverly toy with the well-known saying “when life gives you lemons,” and Quinn discusses the beauty of life’s opportunities. With the second verse and chorus, the band picks up the tempo. Toward the end, the layers of sound build to borderline chaos. It’s noisy and teeters on the brink of being painful to listen to, like being at a Guitar Center while everyone tests out the various electric instruments. Though the band pulls at the bit, they maintain control. It’s a song that gets your heart pounding and your head banging.
The honesty and urgency in Quinn’s voice, shaking with vibrato and emotion, makes me want to sit spellbound and to soak up all of the wisdom that he offers. Mt. Joy spells out the shit that we all face day in and day out—politics, heartbreak, anxiety, climate change, pollution—and he urges us with a gentle shake, saying, “We’ve just got to try.” So maybe we listen to their advice, take that itty bitty hit of weed, get a little stoned and push the mess aside. Maybe then we’ll finally find some answers. –Katie Hatzfeld
Check out these reviews of bands mentioned in the article:
Review: The Lumineers – BRIGHTSIDE
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