Prior to last year, I was only ever tangentially familiar with No Joy. I was vague with Wait To Pleasure and slightly more accustomed to “Califone,” and so I came to know them as a general ‘rock’ band. Imagine my surprise when I read a few reviews of Motherhood that classified the band as shoegaze. (I take my quarantine drama where I can.) Granted, most of the articles discuss how they, or more accurately she—Jasamine White-Gluz is now No Joy’s sole member—warps genre lines to her advantage, s omy incredulity wasn’t completely unwarranted; I would argue that Motherhood contains a fiery energy that defies the very idea of shoegaze. This more-than-rock record not only experiments with structure where possible, it also gives an unflinching take on the crooked joys of its namesake.
Starting with their sophomore album, No Joy has consistently collaborated with Costa Rican artist Jorge Elbrecht as producer; White-Gluz has since declared Elbrecht her “fave artist ever” in a recommendation on Bandcamp. His newest album, Presentable Corpse 002, exists in a completely different sphere and emphasizes his fastidiousness with each sonic texture. (And how familiar were his own recommendations on Bandcamp! Among them: Winter and Vinyl Williams.) Ultimately, Elbrecht is the other major influence on No Joy’s sound alongside White-Gluz, and what they created on Motherhood is an unexpected mix of influences from nu-metal to britpop.
Beginning with the tense stadium-rock groove on “Birthmark,” there is not a single song on this album that doesn’t have a ‘moment’—or several. Take in the glory of the 808s on “Ageless” or the death-metal screech on “Dream Rats” that comes from White-Gluz’s sister Alissa, lead vocalist of the more expressly metal group, Arch Enemy. March to the pitter-pattering beat on “Primal Curse” or get swept into the ominously optimistic atmosphere of “Happy Bleeding.” Pretend you’re in a movie set in the early ‘90s and embrace the bass on “Nothing Will Hurt” as it goes absolutely mental.
The true masterpiece of the record is “Four.” White-Gluz said as much in a statement when the single dropped; more precisely, she called it “perhaps my favorite No Joy song ever written.“ And for good reason—it warms up like “O Green World” by Gorillaz, which is to say that each element has its own introduction before yanking the tablecloth away from the dinner table. The melody that follows is accompanied by a charming coo from a baby, distancing itself from the distraught figure on the single artwork. Then the guitars come through for good measure, bringing us back to No Joy’s bread and butter.
While I wasn’t able to study the full set of lyrics before writing this, there is little about the harsh reality of this record that is lost on its audience. Being a mom, or a parent in general, is a lot of pressure and work. On the surface, anything capable of producing such horror and anxiety should throw into question the idea of unconditional love, yet instead, it becomes its proof. The catharsis across Motherhood comes in waves, giving space for tough moments so that the easy ones do more than allow one to rest—they heal.