Taking a page from singer-songwriters like Bon Iver and Birdy, Australia’s James Keogh, better known as Vance Joy, sings tales of heartaches and coming of age.
Having to create a folk album in this era of ubiquity may feel like an overwhelming task for the young musician, with his bleeding-heart troubadours like Passenger and The Head and the Heart. Lyrically, the record takes up a soul-searching, personal level of candor that feels like the diary entries of a young Conor Oberst.
While the record may center on Keogh’s vocals, guitar or ukulele, the album also features a strong mid-tempo rhythm section and lush orchestral arrangements of strings and brass. The narrative themes, alongside the musical quality of the album are reminiscent of the sepia-toned Americana sound of Mumford and Sons or The Lumineers.
“Riptide” is the main single from the LP and details a narrative of the collision and naivété with maturity summarized by the narrator’s love for the woman he describes as the “closest thing to Michelle Pfeiffer that you’ve ever seen.” The track relies heavily on the ukulele, underscored by rhythmic percussion and synthesizer bass. Initially released on his EP “God Loves You When You’re Dancing,” it also featured the acoustic-guitar centric “From Afar” which also appears on his LP debut “Dream Your Life Away.” Though “Riptide” is the only single released in the U.S., “Mess is Mine,” “First Time,” and “Wasted Time” are to premiere as singles internationally.
The majority of the album was recorded at the iconic Bear Creek Studio in Washington which has hosted a range of American artists like Chris Cornell of Soundgarden and The Lumineers.
However, other tracks on the record were recorded across North America at Eller Studios in Mexico, The Magic Shop in New York City and The Warehouse Studios in Vancouver. With the phenomenal success of “Riptide” in the United States, the singer has launched a massive international tour, with multiple dates in New York including The Studio at Webster Hall, Rough Trade Records and even a performance on Late Night with Seth Meyers.
On his main tour stops, he performs with a supporting band, but for one-off and more intimate shows plays unaccompanied, aside from his acoustic guitar or ukulele. In performance, the songs are highly powerful and minimal in their composition that they carry over well even in the smallest venues and the largest festivals, such as Lollapalooza, where he performed earlier this year.
With the monumental success of “Dream Your Life Away” and the release of many singles in support of the record, Vance Joy holds many prospects in his craft of indie-folk music, and is on the rise to be a well-respected voice in the genre.