Band of Holy Joy ‘City of Tales Volume 1 & 2’ – album review

Band of Holy Joy ‘City of Tales Volume 1 & 2’ (Exotic Pylon Records)
Ltd Dbl cassette/DL

Emerging as a timely release into the current renaissance of electronica, The Band of Holy Joy’s City Of Tales Volume 1 & 2’, contrasts a 1985 salvaged recording on cassette with the band’s ‘trash electronic sequel’. It comes with lyrics booklet designed by Inga Tillere. Holy Joy front man Johny Brown forges the link from a 1985 nervy adrenalin driven New Wave recording in a New Cross squat, to the 2012 reflective, cynical, synthed sounds, interlaced with live strings. Sampled moments of the familiar are morphed into off-kilter altered states in a sound installation of ever playful imagery that stands as a hazy backdrop for the splintered clarity of the lyrics. Angry disillusionment is interspersed with shafts of beauty and emotion. Brown’s distinctive vocals retain the trademark Holy Joy identity in these cityscapes of bleak human existence within which the dark vibrant urge for life clamours forth from sleaze and grime.

The long lost master cassette Volume 1 underwent appropriately dramatic revival restoration via oven baking, and cleansing with tampons and alcohol, prior to being curated with a fresh ear by youngest band member James Stephen Finn. Opening track ‘Vanish Everyone…’ is an aural assault of everything from choral vocals to the music box, followed with ‘I’ll Catch You After Dark’ referencing 80’s TV show soundtracks, the upbeat ‘A Great Binge’ pre-empts muffled vocal, drum machines and warped beats on ‘Fishwives’. The track glories in square chunky pre-digital technology, escalating into wailing caterwauling organs. ‘I’ve drank from Some Dirty Glasses…’ evokes all the hurdy gurdy fun of the Brechtian end of the pier. Title track ‘City of Tales’ with Gallic vocal and intonation abstracts sounds from meaning with an unravelling suggestive of the cassette tape itself and its vulnerability to stretching and distortion. ‘Watching the Night Porter Again’ celebrates the lumbering clunkiness of early computers, sounds of intensive care equipment, frayed edges and dustbin lid clattering. ‘Drug Virgin’, a screech hell bad-trip, say-no-more kind of a tune, is followed by the ‘What I would not do….’ come down effect segueing into a twig light Donna Summer echo. Closing track ‘the tide of life’ is angst fuelled, contorted and funereal.

Vol 2 is a sequel, a response. If there is a slicker gloss on the recording it’s hand in hand with an ever piercing bite to the lyrics. The song titles detail like newspaper headlines of seedy urban life. ‘Empty Purse Found in Hotel Lobby’ is a synthed soul mixed opening, cut across by resonating vocal tones and violin strings. There’s humorous certainty in the 9 minute long saga, ‘Actress Puts the Accent on Authenticity for Role in London Girl Gang Thriller’. ‘I Have Travelled on the Buses Late at Night’, concludes in strands of tenderness ‘the city is a bitch’. ‘Trader Losses Double.’ locates the recording in the here and now of 2013, where it would not be complete without a dig at bankers. ‘He Ordered Her to Spit like a Porn Star’, tells the grimmest of coppers tales with lyrics contrasted by powerful melodic backing. From brutal life and death commentaries on ‘Death Threats in Council Chambers’, to the ‘Met Police Tried to Hide…’ the distilling sound installation quality with relentless imagery wanders on. The slick beat of ‘Hunt on Rack over Text’ distances real tales into filmic surreal snapshots.

Has life in the city got any worse or any better – is the hard edge harder? Is the eye of the beholder more World weary? The warbling farewell wry joke ‘Be a Stranger’ is an enigmatic conclusion with a warmer yet abrupt instrumental end. A tome in 2 volumes rich in Holy Joy colours and sounds.

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