Each morning we wake up and are startled into the realization that yet again, something new or terrible greets us. We walk through it, we live in it and wonder when we will wake up, cause this shit cannot be real. But it is, and here we are.
I hope you have some form of coping mechanism. Mine is taking in music, soaking in it, and then writing about it. That is where I find peace, its where I find joy… it’s how I feed my soul. I have no idea when or if “this” is going away, we all must find a few things to grasp onto and hold tight, something that makes us feel at least a little bit balanced. How prescient is “Rearrange Us”? We’ve all been rearranged, a lot. Rearranged, means a thousand different things to a thousand different people, but this is our new reality. For all of us it means masks, a distance we are not fond of… and a constant state of fear of those around you. This is not healthy… but this is our reality. If you are privileged, you get to have a smile on occasion. These last few months have been made a little easier for me, due to the release of Mt. Joy’s “Rearrange Us”. It has given me some light on some very dark days. I am always grateful for gifts like this, but this one is special. Countless hours with this in my ears have made for a lot of beautiful moments.
There are countless bands that have a star or two and are surrounded by capable musicians and incredibly beautiful things have happened. But on rare occasions something truly magical happens, a group of musicians find each other, for whatever reason, they find each other. Mt. Joy is made up of five uniquely distinct artists, Matt Quinn (vocals, guitar), Sam Cooper (guitar), Jackie Miclau (keyboards), Michael Byrnes (bass) and Sotiris Eliopoulos (drums), in no order at all… Each of them is extremely talented and a star in their own right and they fit together like a beautiful song.
If you look back over the rocket shot ride of Mt. Joy’s career, you will start at “Astrovan”. That was on their self-titled debut album, Mt. Joy. I listened to that album so many times and was in awe of these young musicians singing about a deadhead Jesus and Sheep. I deliberately chose not to write about them because of my age-old philosophy that you really do not know what a band is made of until you hear their sophomore release. Then “Rearrange Us” happened…I am glad I waited.
Music captures me through its rhythm’s and then its lyrics. I need to be able to soak it in and discover some magic in it every time I hear it. I have listened to “Rearrange Us” several hundred times conservatively, and every time I listen, I find a new magic. That fact alone makes this an album that will be in my top whatever for the rest of my life. Its been an awfully long time since I have enjoyed an album from start to finish like this one. This kind of work is exceedingly rare and especially rare from a band that has been together for such a short time. I am so excited about their future; they seem to honestly love each other and that really matters. From what they post on social media, they have a righteous activism in their voice and that tells me they are not too naive. If they hold on to each other, listen to each other and ignore the noise of the industry, then I am sure we will be hearing a lot more from them, and it will be awesome.
The album was released on June 5, 2020 and was recorded in Portland OR by Tucker Martine, I find it all kinds of interesting that Portland rolls its soul through this. I have some history there too, spent some teenage years hanging out on the north end with my older sister and brother in law. Learned a lot there, oh and I was born in Portland… never really lived there though.
It was the keys of Jackie Miclau, playing on “Strangers” that first caught my attention. Her work leaves me completely speechless. Throughout this album, you can hear her weave a beautifully subtle portrait of rhythms, or tear into a ground shaking, lead the band and blow your face to pieces type of riff… and she has a blast doing it.
Miss Miclau, you are a complete rock star. No one gets to question this…it is known.
“Staring at America, and if I blink I’ll drown”
Then they just pile on with those lyrics, there is so much magic wrapped in what they have written, every single song from this album has some. I know that all of this was written and recorded before the pandemic and the protests, but saying they are prescient would be an understatement. I have spent a lot of time letting this album soothe my soul as I have navigated the last few months. I will continue to let it make me smile. They only made me admire them more when I saw their post regarding their June 5th release. They wanted to postpone it; they did not want to self-promote while this nation was trying to come to terms with our ugly racist self. They couldn’t stop the release so in response, they donated all of the first weeks proceeds to Campaign Zone, a non-profit dedicated to reducing police violence. That is a big deal, this is not a band who can sit on their millions from all their big hits! There is no doubt that they will have the opportunity to get there but they are not there, they are just getting started and the first week of sales for an album is not trivial…. It was the top selling album on vinyl that week… Mt. Joy has integrity…respect that.
“Hold on tight, I think I might have wasted all my time on fear
But if I were would you be so rude and tell me what I have to hear”
“Bug Eyes” is a brilliant beginning to this album, it is an example of how Mt. Joy constructs their songs, the way they build to crescendo and then ride from there, is not commonplace, and I love it. The lyrics of this song are so poignant and yet coy in how they dance around our feelings. “May all your love be returned” may go down as one of the best lines on any albums opening song. This song introduced me to Michael Byrnes. This guy is one hell of a bass player. Every song he plays has a little of his soul wrapped up in it. Yes, I am partial to bass players, so what. This guy can play, he can play and play, and I will listen and listen. The bass line in “Bug Eyes” is a great example of how the bass can drive a song and yet remain a subtle fixture of your imagination. Michael delivers the precise bass line each song needs throughout this album; some are subtle, and some are in your face righteous bass lines. I am a fan of this kid. There is a beautiful joy in the way Jackie, Michael and Sotiris drive this song, they are locked in and so precise throughout this album. This opening tune is a demonstration of how a rhythm section should and can absolutely carry a song. Even if it has profound lyrics…
“Are you not worried, are you not worried
‘Cause we don’t have to lie like them, we’re all already lost”
“Acrobats” is a stunning romp of lyrics diving into a roar of magical music. This song takes you on a ride of absolute magic! Every member of the group makes a statement here, it’s like they are saying we are Mt. Joy, can you handle it??? This song has one of the most complete bridges I have heard in decades… Put this on repeat and repeat…
“If the future won’t hold it don’t let go
And if the future won’t hold it don’t let go
’Cause if the future won’t hold it just trust the moment
If the future won’t hold it just trust the moment
If the future won’t hold it don’t let go If the future won’t hold it just trust the moment
The future won’t hold it don’t let go
And if the future won’t hold it I will carry it”
“Come With Me” If there was a protest song on this album, this would be it… everything about this song gives me hope. Do you have any idea how many times I have seen a glimmer of hope only to have it crushed.? I was seven when MLK was killed, I was fourteen when we ran from Vietnam, and then in my late twenties, we had sunk into the gulf war. There have been so many times that the “future would not hold it” Something about today feels different, just trust this moment. This song stands as an example of just how much magic this band has. It is the beautiful culmination of reaching for hope through music and lyrics. We are all alive in a moment of reckoning, we are all responsible for being the change that creates the same opportunity for every soul regardless of how they look or how they identify themselves. I am exhausted with being helpless to change what is happening to my brothers and sisters around me. I will keep helping you all feed yourselves from my neighborhood grocery store job and I will keep turning to songs like this to keep me alive.
I will not go through every detail of every song; I am leaving plenty for you to discover on your own, it is a great ride. I will leave you with this though… spend forty-five seconds of your life and listen to “Have Faith in the Good”, it is a beautifully simple spell of magic, all its own, just wash in it… you’re welcome.
Hold very tight to the people in your life, I do not remember a time when there was this much to worry about. Each of those around us is struggling to understand what hope is or if it even exists. We should live and die and see the world through someone else’s eyes… be bug eyed and go fall in love with strangers…
Listening, learning, and growing….