Album Review: Joywave, ‘How Do You Feel Now?’
Judging from the rabid viral response to Big Data's single, "Dangerous," and Joywave's "Tongues," it's clear that Joywave founder and bandleader Daniel Armbruster has a midas touch when it comes to crafting taut, catchy electro-pop. (He co-founded Big Data and sings lead vocals on "Dangerous" but stepped down to devote himself fully to Joywave.) Now, after having been together for five years – in a career arc that includes two mix tapes, two EPs of originals, a slot opening for the Killers, making a splash at last year's Lollapalooza and performances on Jimmy Kimmel Live and Late Night with Seth Meyers – the Rochester, N.Y.-based quintet stand poised prove whether or not they can hold listeners for a whole album with How Do You Feel Now?, their debut full-length.
But that depends, of course, on the listener. Several of the songs on this album have the kind of self-contained, quick-climaxing structure that suits them perfectly for inclusion on a playlist, a DJ mix or the dance floor. By the same token, Armbruster and company have obviously learned a thing or two making mix tapes of their own, as they vary the attack from song to song just enough to sustain the feeling that you're not sitting with 11 helpings of the same exact type of music. Some tunes, such as "Destruction," with its chorus that's essentially gutted of rhythm as keyboards give it a backdrop of neon-sunset hues, sound themselves like remixes. The band also ever so slightly change shape from Filter-esque riff-tronica to Depeche Mode-inspired melodic bliss to the indie disco of, say, Passion Pit – all threaded together by Armbruster's soaring, emotive delivery.
It's this ability to walk these paths simultaneously that makes How Do You Feel Now? suited for release by Hollywood Records – a Disney affiliate – which is more a testament to the band's songwriting, production and tonal savvy than a knock on its aspirations. But put one of these songs into the hands of a highly-touted underground DJ-producer and Joywave might bounce its way into underground credibility too. It's not like it would be much of a stretch, thematically speaking: Armbruster's outlook here is informed by his own sense of stagnation and motionlessness from the fact that he still lives with his parents.
It may take you a while to infer the anxiety that underlies these tunes, but it gives the album some texture that Armbruster still feels this way in spite of already having tasted mass recognition. Which means that after you've stopped dancing to How Do You Feel Now?, its subtext of adult malaise will creep up on you.