Joywave Impress At The Westway
Soulful vocals meets Indie Rock via 80's New Wave - welcome to the word of Joywave...
Every October, thousands of bands descend upon New York City to participate in the annual five-day CMJ ("College Music Journal") Music Festival in an effort to play as many sets as possible to as many eyes and ears as possible in an already overstocked live music market. You can walk through certain parts of Manhattan's Lower East Side and find bars with packed line-ups of bands scheduled to play from noon to the early hours of the morning, as well as more established music venues such as Irving Plaza or Terminal 5 scheduling concerts as part of the event. While certainly not as prestigious as Austin's South by Southwest Festival, CMJ has been known to help break acts that are now internationally known - the Arcade Fire, Lada Gaga, R.E.M., and many others have played CMJ before hitting it big.
Still, many bands who perform at CMJ are downright horrible, being better suited to a high school "Battle of the Bands" event, and after playing a set or two at CMJ drift off into obscurity. Thankfully, every now and then you hear a band that surprises you, who strikes you as having potential, who sounds familiar yet completely new at once. I like to track such discoveries from CMJ and see how they progress and rise (or perhaps fall) in the fickle music industry - even if they don't become the next Arcade Fire, it's still a band who may achieve headliner status at the Bowery Ballroom or Mercury Lounge, or one of the myriad of music venues opening in Williamsburg and other parts of Brooklyn. For me, such band I discovered this past October was the Rochester, NY-based Joywave.
I first discovered Joywave at Gramercy Theater while waiting for some unknown singer-songwriter a friend of mine had recommended. This was after seeing a disastrous set by British pop starlet Neon Hitch who managed to make both Britney Spears and Ke$ha appear classy AND talented. Following her set I had low expectations for the acts that followed.
When Joywave took the stage I initially thought they would be better suited to a high school battle of the bands, but after each song they played got better and better, I realized my folly. Lead singer Daniel Armbruster's soulful voice, in some ways comparable to that of Radiohead's Thom York (yeah, I'll go there...), was well suited to the underlying synth sounds accompanying the guitar, bass, and drums, and managed to flawlessly switch into falsetto when necessary. The quintet, comprised of your standard unit of singer/guitarist/bassist drummer and keyboardist-Macbook player (fairly ubiquitous in this day and age) manages to create catchy music that echoes back to '80's New Wave while still sounding current.
I saw them again during CMJ a few days later at the Cameo Gallery in Williamsburg, where they played a more abbreviated set but continued to make a statement. They had apparently already done so - I discovered while chatting with some folks at the show that the band had just signed a record contract, the details of which were not disclosed to me.
I'm sure the label was convinced to sign the band after hearing the band's catchiest track, "Tongues" (featuring DJ KOPPS), which contains a driving synth beat that is reminiscent of British band Hot Chip's faster, more upbeat tracks. After I first heard it and the chorus began to stick in my head, I thought it was destined to appear as a cut on a soundtrack of some sort (and indeed, based on their Facebook page it looks like "Tongues" has recently appeared in an episode of the Fox sitcom "The Mindy Project").
I caught Joywave for a third time on Thursday, January 16, 2014 at a show sponsored by Popshop NYC at The Westway in the West Village (http://donyc.com/popshopwestway). It seems like with each passing show the band seems more comfortable with itself and is ready to attract more fans to their music. But the rest of the band's catalogue seems to ensure that they're more than just a band capable of one song suitable to a TV soundtrack, and unfortunately, many of the best songs I heard aren't available online yet (they have a few songs available on their website, http://joywavemusic.com/, and you can also find some of their stuff on iTunes).
I'm already looking forward to the release of an EP this spring through their as-yet-to-be-named label and a full length album to follow.
New York City has an incredibly diverse indie rock music scene. Time will tell how Joywave's career may arc. For now it's comforting to know that I can see them in smaller venues, converting new pairs of eyes and ears into fans with each passing show - thankfully for them, I think the only place for them to go is up.Written by Alexander Keblish