For a record collecting five singles released over the past year, A Severe Joy's second full-length, Cinematesque, Pt. 1, sure does feel like an "album." The 10 songs here simmer with a similar passion, digital beats and loops paired with electric guitar and bass parts, all beneath Jose Ayerve's varied vocals.
While it would be overstating things to call any of these singles "catchy," they are each memorable, whether laced with dubstep wobbles, like the opening "If I Ever Find You" or more along the lines of the Postal Service, the production supporting melancholy moodiness. A Severe Joy continues the lyrical directness of the last album, too, with frank admissions like "I want a boyfriend who doesn't have a boyfriend . . . who likes to smoke some pot/Takes his clothes off when hot."
Above all else, this album is incredibly tasteful. It's blunt without being overbearing, playful without being silly, and there's always a head-bobbing verse around every corner.
Like much of Ayerve's work, there's a hint of '80s undercurrent, like the album could be the soundtrack to a remake of Less than Zero, updated to get rid of the sport coats with the rolled up sleeves. "(Meet Me in Your) Helicopter," especially, features the cleanest vocal delivery, straightforward like the Simple Minds: "Is this heaven? You ask/I think we're close."
This album is also quite a bit more polished than the debut ASJ record from November 2011. Ayerve seems to have both better mastered this new all-digital medium (all of the sounds here are his; Chris Watkinson provided mastering for this release) and decided to be a little less combative with his listeners. This is a record with which it's much easier to cohabitate.
Safer? Possibly. But Ayerve still pulls off a super-low dropbeat to open "Liver in the Summertime," his voice arching up at the end of verse lines in contrast, and doesn't have any issues recounting that time "when my lips hit the edge of your thighs." It's delightfully moody.
He's also becoming something of a master of the fadeout. The last 15 seconds of a song here can be the most telling, as the beats and sparkle tend to fade away and leave a naked guitar part, or a bouncy bass, as the fleeting memory you'll take with you. A close listen with the headphones will be rewarded.
Ayerve calls A Severe Joy an alter ego, and you can hear that desire in lyrics like "don't tell me that I/Am nothing but a really nice guy." But there is so much recognizable about this record for any Spouse/Ayerve fan, from his signature song in Spanish to his vocal lilts. It's just more proof that no costume, no new skin, can mask a soul that burns this brightly.
CINEMATESQUE, PT. 1 | Released by A Severe Joy | listening party at SPACE, in Portland | Feb 5 @ 7 pm | full digital release Feb 26 on Nine Mile Records