With seven years between No Famous Death’s first album and their second “Dark Joy” it would have been easy for this release to be over-produced, over-tweaked or self-indulgent. However, the Calgary-based trio managed to avoid all of these pitfalls and instead crafted an album that plays like a comfortably frantic conversation with an old friend. Lo-fi warmth and shy vocals coat “Dark Joy” with a charm that is at once intimate yet atmospheric.
Production on the album began in 2010 and singer/songwriter/guitarist Steven Rusling is the first admit that the self-produced followup didn’t come without its labor pains.
“I would love to tell you that five years of work show on the record, but it took that long because it fell into a quagmire often” Rusling says, “There are tracks where the vocal take was recorded in 2010 and the guitar in 2015, with many unused takes between. It’s no way to live.”
To say Rusling was careful in the mixing process would be an understatement, and the time he took is apparent in the album’s deceptively ornate soundscape. He describes the release as “a product of me turning knobs in my bedroom for a few years,” and that the lo-fi tonality was “80% a conscious decision” with the other 20 percent having a little more “mud” than he would have liked. Reminiscent of “Seven Swans” era Sufjan Stevens, Rusling’s ability to record and produce such a textured album is representative of his spirit as an artist.
Even with the traditional rock instrumentation of guitar, bass (Aaron Cherot), and drums (Chuck Gould), songs such as “I’ve Only Got One Friend” and “You’ll Have Time” sound anything but straight-forward with whispering guitars and searching strings constantly moving within the mix. “Dark Joy” is remarkable in its ability to embrace its own loneliness.
Lyrically, broad themes of love and loss run through the album, carefully wrapping themselves around vignettes of day dream-esque scenes, friendship, and sexual confusion. Even at times when the content is enigmatic and difficult to decipher it never comes across as high brow; it isn’t meant to be daunting. Standouts include “Eric Fell Off The Roof,” “You’ll Go Back To Girls,” and the enthralling “Stay Cruel.”
When asked what’s in No Famous Death’s future, Rusling responded simply, “I’m doing some more recording. It takes a long time, though.”
And with that sentiment, it begins again. With no plans of a big tour or some gimmicky social media campaign, the lack of pretension surrounding the album’s release is almost as pure as the recordings themselves.
For many artists, inordinate time spent working on an album comes with heavy doses of doubt, second thoughts, and over manipulation. No Famous Death seems to embrace that, thus making “Dark Joy” wryly unsure of itself and sonically stunning.