Joywave probably couldn’t have done anything about the timing, but it’s a bad year for Content.
Joywave probably couldn’t have done anything about the timing, but it’s a bad year for Content. Between Robin Pecknold’s musings on how much a drag Columbia was on Crack-Up, Win Butler’s whining about social media and–uh–literally everything about Father John Misty, music doesn’t need more dudes vaguely complaining about nothing. Yet, Joywave opens Content with this line: “I’m searching for the difference between what content and content can bring/ Maybe they’re no different because they look the same.”
If you don’t have the massive intellect to tell the difference between those two words, Joywave is talking about the duality of producing music/memes/media (content) and being happy and fulfilled in life (Content). Even their philosophy 101 teacher is rolling their eyes.
Content alternates between insufferable, forgettable platitudes and occasional moments of beauty. About half the album is completely disposable Phoenix-like pop-rock but a watered down version of what made those French playboys so great. The choruses are nearly uniformly catchy, if unmemorable and Daniel Armbruster’s voice, if not lyrics, are fluid and pleasing.
Joywave clearly has pop chops, the ethereal chorus of “Shutdown” paired with big crunching power chords proof enough of that. Indeed, when it’s simply aims for earworms, is wins. “Rumors” has a bass heavy electric groove and Armbruster’s voice admirably ping-pongs across chugging guitars on the shimmery “Doubt.” If you stripped down Content to its choruses, it would be a welcome repurposing pop junkyard for any number of stars. Joywave could even become ghostwriters and producers like Jack Antonoff and Twin Shadow. But much like Antonoff and George Lewis Jr, the group seems unable to reign in its worst traits while working solo.
If the choruses stand, that’s not a high bar when the songwriting is otherwise so sloppy and infuriating. The scratchy “Going to a Place” is cutesy-industrial and provides more cringe worthy verse: “Everybody’s pretty but they’re all dead and vacant inside.” Note to Joywave: Foo Fighters’ “Stacked Actors” came out in 2000, and it’s really bad when Dave Grohl beat you to a lyrical idea by nearly two decades.
The thumping “Little Lies You’re Told” aims for dancefloor glory and breaks both of its legs before getting past the door. “You’re a precious snowflake with your picture in the paper,” Armbruster pouts. It’s unclear whether he’s rallying against Social Justice Warriors or ironically using “snowflake,” but it’s not worth the energy to read into his lyrics. He also pseudo-raps on the bridge. It’s as terrible as you’d expect.
Outside of those catchy nuggets, that’s all Content is. The album is flat in every regard, its philosophy would get laughed out of a seventh grade classroom and the bone-brained build ups to the actually pleasant sounds makes the entire enterprise not worth it. Content’s own title is about the highest praise it can get. On one level, it delivers exactly what it promises: content. But it proves that content does not equal quality.