Simon Joyner has drawn a surprisingly little amount of attention to himself,Â especially when you considerÂ how impressive the man’s CV must look: his style is one that has been developing for nearly twenty years, and one that is directly responsible for the musical output of Smog, Will “Bright Eyes” Oldham, and Dinosaur Jr.’s Lou Barlow, among others. A pioneer of the lo-fi movement of the 90s, Joyner has just released his twelfth LP, Out Into The Snow. In spite ofÂ the title, however, there isn’t much of that folk-music melancholy – in fact, the album has a sort of warm, if not wistful,Â familiarity to it. It’s the sentiment you only get from whittling away the years with your songs. After all, there’s no fast-track to authenticity.
The album starts with the nine-minute “The Drunken Boat,” a track that functions as a microcosm of the work as a whole. Joyner puts all of his tools on display through the course of the tune, and it is these tools that represent the sonic pallet of the rest of the album, save a few tricks here or there. Joyner strums a simple chord progression on top of a ride cymbal and snare that are pleasantly innocuous. AÂ melting slide guitar weaves through the texture on occasion asÂ he sings lyrics that hearken to Rimbaud. About six minutes in, violinist Laraine Kaizer’s arrangements are brought to the forefront, the rhythm section replaced entirely by a chamber string ensemble. Joyner’s voice meshes nicely with the deliberate bowing used by the instrumentalists, but things take an interesting turn in the last minute of the song, when the strings become more deranged, playing in opposing rhythms to one another, ascending nefariously. This side of Kaizer’s arranging comes through now and again on the album, and adds a streak of darkness to what is otherwise a pleasant, down tempo country aesthetic.
It’s the vocals that tie the whole album together, though, and listeners are going to be pretty divided as to whether or not they, y’know, like them. The first voice that comes to mind when I listen to Simon Joyner are a young Leonard Cohen, particularly on the title track, which even makes similar use of backup vocals. You can hear some Lou Reed from time to time, like the last verse of “The Arsonist,” a delivery that seems to care very little about the notes themselves and more as a lyrical medium. There’s a bit of a tattered quality to Joyner’s voice, too. Some notes come out painfully flat, straight-up out of tune. It’s unpleasant, sure, but these moments only serve to reinforce that Simon Joyner’s poetry is far more important than its delivery. Given the imperfect nature of his characters, though, it suits the songwriting quite wellÂ and further adds to the character of his music.
While the music certainly takes a backseat to the lyrics most of the time, Joyner clearly enjoys letting his band have some fun, too. What comes to mind specifically is “Roll On,” which closes the album as a more boisterous, honky tonk tune. We get some drunken-style sing-along from the other musicians, and the song conjures up the image of the band sitting around the studio, jamming out and having a great time with a tune they all love. Quite the departure from the more solemn character of the rest of the album, but it works well enough as a closer, if not a little inconsistent with the other tracks.
Out Into The Snow probably won’t convert anyone who may have been on the fence about Simon Joyner’s music, but those who were already fans are bound to be pleased. It’s another solid entry in a career that has already seen plenty of output and influenced a number of relevant artists today. The album is a good enough entry point into the rest of Joyner’s work, and continues the stream of quality songwriting that has persisted for just about two decades now.
Rating: 3.5 / 5