Joyer’s Slowcore Finds Its Footing on Night Songs

Brothers Nick and Shane Sullivan give us a healthy, mellow album that easily detonates into pop choruses or splattered distortion.

Music Reviews Joyer
Joyer’s Slowcore Finds Its Footing on Night Songs

If you’re driving through the night, the journey from Brooklyn to Boston can feel longer than it actually is. Traversing through wealthy Connecticut towns and working-class Worcester County, the atmosphere becomes unsettling and too quiet, even when flying down the highway. The brothers who make up Joyer understand this journey better than most, with Nick Sullivan in Brooklyn and Shane Sullivan in Boston. They met in Rhode Island to record their fifth album since 2017, Night Songs, where they took nocturnal uneasiness and paired it to familiar, surprisingly tuneful slowcore. Joyer seems more confident than ever in their craft, giving us a healthy, mellow album that easily detonates into pop choruses or splattered distortion.

For fans of the band’s previous projects, Night Songs will not be a game-changer. The poking, compressed acoustic guitars of 2020’s Sun Into Flies and the loose, winding melodies of their debut album aren’t hard to find here. Re-teaming with Bradford Krieger, who has produced and mixed projects by Horse Jumper of Love and Squirrel Flower, Night Songs allows for wheezing lap steel guitars, almost-too-clean cymbal hits and wiry textures to crop up at random. Early highlight “777” centers around a sluggish drumbeat, while the swirling melodies of the guitars and vocals unfurl in unison, emphasizing the song’s ever-present heartbreak. “I’ll say that I can be okay with this” closes one verse. Later, “Mason Dixon” offers a similar ambiance, allowing for the satisfaction of leaving for somewhere new to be rendered in widescreen elegance.

It’s worth noting that Night Songs is also the Joyer album with the clearest hooks, leaning into jangle pop in order to propel their anxieties forward. The uptempo “Fall Apart” bursts open with a Ducks Ltd.-esque rhythm, relying upon familiar, jangling textures to introduce things. Right before “Fall Apart” swerves in a different direction, bubblegum pop “doo doos” cut in, countering building tension with Brill Building instincts. “Star” almost conjures heartland rock with its meandering guitar solo, like a lost The War on Drugs demo fronted by someone who grew up on Stephen Malkmus instead of Bruce Springsteen. But each venture towards guitar pop territory brims with assurance, as if Nick and Shane have been nurturing a love for 12-string Rickenbackers this entire time.

Across Night Songs, vocals pop up from Brooklyn artist and animator Sabrina Nichols, offering a counterpoint to the comfortable monotones employed by the Sullivan brothers. On the jagged “Rings a Bell,” Nichols comes in immediately, underscoring ghastly lines about forcing yourself to connect to the people around you. The whammy bar chords of “Try” open up to a duet with Nichols, where her whispered, gently infectious vocals help create the sense of an incomplete interaction, two lovers who can’t break through to the other. “I wish I knew what that means,” they sing in a half-time breakdown with an emo-esque melody, trying and failing to communicate. “Try” is Joyer at their best, underplaying a soaring vocal melody for melancholy’s sake.

Night Songs manages to swerve again, inserting jagged, distorted breakdowns to spruce up the comfortable slowcore. The aforementioned infectious “Falls Apart” punctures its bittersweet pop with a shoegaze midsection, stumbling upon phased, flanged distorted guitars that recall Hayday-era feeble little horse, before snapping back into place with the song’s “I want to do the things that make me fall apart” slogan. The brothers open “Softer Skin” with a howling, puncturing layer of guitars, easing up with a wobbling, slow beat that pairs perfectly with the line “the soft wind shakes the trees, twirls the weather vane.” But explosions of guitar squelches intrude upon the dreamy lyrical tangents, like the sounds of your house settling and waking you from a deep sleep in the process. This muddiness can occasionally backfire, taking hold of “Silver Moon” by turning the Big Muff’d guitars and lackadaisical vocals into a single clamor. There’s the impression of a great song here, just stuck on the other side of a wall.

Bitcrushed guitars and sympathetic vocals cohere wonderfully on “Drive All Night,” which suggests how Joyer could continue to further develop and balance these strengths along the way. With an occasional touch of tension, coming most clearly from the chord progression, this is ultimately one of Joyer’s happiest songs—noting sunny skies and whippoorwills before settling on a sentiment of gratefulness. It summarizes what Joyer can do best when a hint of feedback appears. Suddenly, a moving guitar solo materializes, mixing a sense of bombast with the minuscule and tender.

Ethan Beck is a writer from Pittsburgh who lives in Brooklyn. His work can be found at Bandcamp Daily, Paste Magazine, Washington Square News and others.

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