Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Album Review: Further Joy by The Regrettes

I have no idea how many times this will need to be repeated in the coming decades, but: the lockdown was hard on everyone. The effects of the pandemic on us as a society are still being researched in an attempt to understand it from every angle. For performers, the pandemic was a huge lifestyle change. Many took to livestreaming as a surrogate for live shows, but it could never be the same. As an avid fan of live music who worked all through the pandemic, I can tell you that I didn't tune in to many livestreams even though I would have taken the time off for an in-person show. It just isn't the same. There's a kind of energy you get from the band and that they get from you that can't be replaced. Frontperson for The Regrettes, Lydia Night says she suffered from the lack of live performing. Many songs on the new album address anxiety (which, no surprise, is a symptom that has increased exponentially since the pandemic). Night channeled her anxiety and stress into a therapeutic songwriting process. That process seems to have yielded the band's 2020 release "What am I Gonna Do Today" as well as many songs on Further Joy. Night has spoken in-depth on the topic, saying; "Part of the healing process for me is really learning and trying my best to keep on dancing the pain away so I hope people can relate to that and dance with me."

This brings us up to the current day now that Further Joy has been fully contextualized. It's a departure from their earlier music just as our world is a departure from the way it was in February of 2020. The band's confident pop-punk is now joined with a '90s pop sound. Night channels Gwen Stefani and even Donna Lewis' soft and floating vocals, in doing so showing her own voice off. It lets you hear her range. Bands pivot to other genres all the time, but rarely for such a good reason. 

Further Joy kicks off with "Anxieties," which introduces the feeling to the album. The intro and first verse are accompanied by something akin to a half-wall of sound produced by Tim Pagnotta. The synthesizer and glockenspiel part that opens the song continues through the first verse, creating a sense of monotony and anxiety. When it breaks at the chorus, the relief is palpable. The chorus is introduced by drums before transitioning into an ethereal, quieter part of the song. Thus, the song is able to convey the sentiment of the lyrics before you even know what they are. The lyrics to "Anxieties" cover many ways we can feel and express our anxieties, from constant crying to negative and painful thought distortions that lower our self-esteem. Despite the constant worries, the message of the song manages to be somewhat positive thanks to the constant mantra of "knock me down down up back down//knock me down I won't back down." The themes of the lyrics are echoed by the music video, whether Night is looking in a funhouse mirror that distorts her self-image, sitting with several spotlights on her, not knowing what to do with her hands, viewing the whole world in a distorted manner, or seeking plastic surgery despite the fact that there's absolutely nothing wrong with her. "Anxieties" makes its point in every way, making it an incredibly effective pop track.

"Anxieties" is immediately followed by my favorite track on the album, the earworm "Monday." "Monday" would fit in on one of their earlier albums with relative ease, yet it also indicates a great deal of musical growth. "Monday" covers similar topics to "Anxieties," even including another reference to uncontrollable crying ("I swear it's just my sinuses I'll be fine"). Musically, the song does something I find brilliant, whether it was fully intentional or not. The beginning of the song brings to mind "Smells Like Teen Spirit" with the guitar rhythm and some of the chord intervals. As the song moves into the chorus, the bass synth part takes on the piano part from "Baba O'Riley" and then the song shifts back and forth between these two movements. The video for "Monday" takes place at a high school dance. Between the video, the lyrics about "these growing pains they push me 'till I break," and the fact that the song calls upon two of the most seminal songs about teens, I am inclined to believe that "Monday" is, in part about teenage anxiety. Guitarist and keyboardist Genessa Gariano told  Consequence Sound: "Personally, I’ve been carrying the anxiety backpack around since I was a kid. I know from conversations I’ve had with friends, that they’ve related to that experience too." Teenage thoughts and troubles don't stop just because we graduate high school. 

Next up is "That's What Makes Me Love You," a reggae-beat driven song reminiscent of No Doubt or The Cardigans' "Lovefool." It's a sweet song about a young relationship, but it doesn't portray the relationship as all roses. For the third song in a row, there are references to crying. Night says the song was about her getting over her relationship anxiety; "I would look at any argument or tense conversation as a sign or scary thing, making it mean so much more than just a simple conversation. I got out of that place by realizing, 'I love this person for exactly who they are and nothing needs to change.'[...] The song came from me flipping the narrative in my own brain to 'That’s not why I should be scared. That’s why I love you.'" 

The following song, "Barely on my Mind" is a total 180 from the topics of "That's What Makes Me Love You." It's a song about an undeniably toxic relationship that the narrator has left, but still can't shake. Night describes everything from "high highs" (a staple of emotionally abusive relationships, as they make you think this person could be the one after all) to "no sleep//400 miles away you control me" and "follow me around//hold me 'till I drown." The bridge covers the same topic as "I Knew You Were Trouble" (feeling as though this person was bad news from the beginning, yet still proceeding and kicking yourself later) with "I had a feeling and no, I wasn't wrong//I had a feelin' you were a devil in a fancy suit." Night pulled this relationship straight out of personal experience, saying: "That song for me was processing [a] shi**y relationship because it doesn’t go away, it doesn’t just disappear." Musically, "Barely on my Mind" has an intro and underlying instrumental reminiscent of Tame Impala, with a string sting popping in occasionally that plays like one of Jeff Lynne's production choices. Night stays close to "That's What Makes Me Love You" with a vocal similar to Stefani again. This is in no way an indication that the song is a facsimile of other artists' material. Quite the contrary; the elements of artists that The Regrettes are pulling from adds complexity to their work. The two songs may be completely disconnected, but there is a musical continuity between "That's What Makes Me Love You" and "Barely on my Mind."

"Subtleties (Never Giving up on You)" takes on body image in a manner that almost sounds like a love song. That is, until you give it a deep listen and realize it's the narrator's own body she is trying to love as she's "stuck in you forever." I love the way this song is able to convey feelings of insecurity and living uncomfortably within your own skin. My favorite line goes: "easy to preach it when you're not//naked in the mirror yelling affirmations just to find a thing that you believe." "Subtleties" acts as a love song about trying to fall in love with yourself, but came from a dark place for Night, who has struggled with eating disorders since the age of 15. The chorus is very singable and the production by Tim Pagnotta once again begs for your attention.

The external anxieties are back for "La Di Da." Night describes feeling an anxiety attack coming on through an otherwise great day. All she can do in the song is push it down and give herself nonsense to sing so that she doesn't focus on the panic creeping in. "La Di Da" is one of the most upbeat songs on the album, bringing to mind a '90s or early '00s Europop song, particularly at the chorus. All of the collective noise of the verses and choruses really makes the bridge more impressive within the context of the song. It's quiet and uplifting, feeling like a break from the stresses. A slight, gentle Burt Bacharach brass part pops in with the melody above sustained strings and chimes. When the drum beat returns, the song remains peaceful: not something you would dance to, but something you can "vibe" to. It seems as though the "La Di Da" mantra has begin to work for her, and now it's offered as advice. 

Although "La Di Da" is also produced by Jacknife Lee as well, "Homesick" and "Better Now" sound more closely related as a pair. Lee's production crosses between modern pop and the synthpop/post-punk sound of bands like New Order. This production works perfectly with the guitar sound, which is reminiscent of The Xx during their first album, and the bass, which brings to mind the work of Simon Gallup. These two songs discuss very different topics, with "Homesick" being a genuine song about Night missing her boyfriend and "Better Now" about the hindsight one experiences when looking back on previous unwarranted anxieties.

"Rosy" is one of the most poppy songs on the album, but a mesh of modern and turn-of-the-millennium pop. As lightly implied by the title, "Rosy" is about wearing rose-tinted glasses. The narrator is so happy in her new relationship that she doesn't see anything negative about the situation. Even though at one point she mentions that he "had a girlfriend," I can't see anything negative about the relationship either. It's a song that's upbeat and fun, and the lyrics send you to a charming place. Everything works together very well. The only downside to "Rosy" as included on this album is that the anxieties mentioned in the song are "cured" by her crush, which we know is not sustainable. Night was aware of this, stating "I had to learn not to let all my highs exist with someone else because placing that sort of pressure on a relationship is not healthy. I think it’s better to not have those glasses on." As high as the emotion gets in "Rosy," it immediately drops to a much lower place for the ballad-like "You're So F***ing Pretty." "You're So F***ing Pretty" is a childlike, regretful tale of a missed romantic opportunity. Gariano drove the songwriting process for this one, pulling from a real story of a crush on a friend. Night, however, had her own experience to pull from as well. Drummer Drew Thomsen told Consequence Sound "It started out like this Fleetwood Mac song with a big stomping kick." Producer Tim Pagnotta suggested that the subject matter of the track would make it more effective as a piano song.

"Step 9" and "Nowhere" return to faster tempos. Both songs are somewhat nostalgic, but not in a good way. "Step 9" is about not fully forgiving someone for their former toxicity just because they're sober now. The title, "Step 9" is an obvious reference the the AA Twelve-Step program, step nine of which is "Make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others." "Nowhere" is another song about body image and anxiety as well as the lust to find happiness in hitting goals, with the standout line being "not a single pore, I really can't relate//hey, but if I had that skin you know I'd still complain." Most issues with body image are unavoidable, as everyone wants something they don't have physically. In addition, however, feelings of depression and anxiety come not only from comparing ourselves to others, but from expecting external success to validate us within ourselves.

In my opinion, a good album closer acts as a thesis statement for the album. "Show Me You Want Me" incorporates many ideas from the album. The sound of the track sums up some of the other musical themes explored, but also brings a high energy to wrap up the album. The lyrics once again touch on insecurity and romance. Night sings "and if you take away the stage am I something you can see through," which for me, brings to mind her quote about being a performer during lockdown: "as LA locked down, I felt a huge part of my identity and ego being stripped away because of no touring, and no connecting with people at our shows."

If this album has one flaw, to me it is that the songs are arranged with the very strongest ones on the first half. The other songs are good, but not as good. Apart from that, the album is solid. Night's lyrics are complex and at times prove that you can say simple things in interesting ways. The exploration of sound gives the band new depth and versatility, which will open up even more opportunities for songwriting in the future. Lydia Night as a frontperson has always had a lot of attitude and confidence, yet here is often vulnerable. I hope young fans who saw her persona as a goal will now be able to see that they too can be who they want to be, even if it's a great deal of hard work to get there.

The Regrettes are a punk/rock/pop band from Los Angeles.

Further Joy is out now and can be purchased on vinyl here.

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