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No Joy: Motherhood

Montreal’s No Joy has spent the last half decade trying to refine a notion that shoegaze and electronica can coexist. Their first three records, led by 2013’s modern shoegaze classic Wait to Pleasure, were enjoyable in their own right, but with the Drool Sucker EP in 2016, it became evident that mastermind Jasamine White-Gluz wanted to push the boundaries of what the band can do. There were mixed results, like with 2018’s Sonic Boom collaboration, that found them taking a backseat to Pete Kember’s trance influenced beats. All of this was leading to something though, as No Joy return in 2020. Their first proper LP since 2015’s wonderful More Faithful, Motherhood has been culled from years of tireless perfecting.

White-Gluz hasn’t had the levels of success enjoyed by her sister Alissa, who fronts the melodic death metal band Arch Enemy. But with Motherhood, White-Gluz sheds the full band project that once was No Joy and emerges as the solo project No Joy, taking on all of the aspects to craft a new album. The result is the most exhilarating No Joy record to date.

It opens as every No Joy release seems to, with the faint ascending of White-Gluz’s vocals over a dreamy melody. At first glance, it would appear this is another standard record from the project, and that the electronic explorations were abandoned. But mid-way through “Birthmark,” a healthy balance of synths and drum loops bring the sense of a fresh start. It’s got a ‘90s soundtrack type vibe, like a lighter Type O Negative-influence or even latter day Nine Inch Nails. But there’s no mistaking No Joy for either of those as White-Gluz isn’t hanging out in the back; on Motherhood, she’s front and center.

Things get a little wilder on “Dream Rats” when after a few delicate seconds we’re met with brutal screams you would expect on a Deafheaven record (provided, one assumes, by the credited guest spot from her sister Alissa). It evolves into twinkly synths and guitars, woven together with a smooth chorus. With White-Gluz handling all of the direction of the band now it’s evident just how far she’s willing to take it, bookending the track with these guttural howls. At one moment you’re expecting another retread as so many shoegaze bands do these days, but White-Gluz wasn’t content with that. Steering this ship towards a more progressive sound breathes so much more life into the project. This isn’t to knock any previous efforts, even if the Sonic Boom collaboration was frequently dismissed, it was a necessary step to get No Joy where she is now. And it’s not even a departure from shoegaze, there’s still hazy guitars and feedback laced throughout. This is merely the next step to take.

“Four” is one of the more minimalistic moments on Motherhood; it pushes White-Gluz into industrial zones where the noise engulfs her, something absent from her repertoire before. There’s swirling noise that transitions to funk and new age, and it’s almost as if Enya’s in the studio for two seconds. Sampling is used too, something No Joy hasn’t often done; nevertheless, this is still shoegaze and dream pop. Such deviations from the script only improve her sound, which no one might have thought possible a few years ago.

Above all, Motherhood coheres; even if all of the melodies and experimentations seem random, they all go hand-in-hand to elevate No Joy to that perfect sound White-Gluz has been methodically aspiring to these last five years. She hits the bullseye almost every time, like on “Why Mothers Die,” which closes in a noise collage that segues gorgeously into the starry intro of “Happy Bleeding.”

Each record from No Joy thus far has resumed a steady pace in the shoegaze lane. But with Motherhood the vehicle busts through the guardrails, it subverts the expectations for what a shoegaze album should sound like in 2020. Previous albums may have scratched an itch, but here she tears the skin off and exposes the mechanics underneath. White-Gluz has proven herself a capable soloist, ready to take this project–her sonic baby if you will–even higher.

After a five year odyssey exploring electronic and experimentation, No Joy return to form having learned a thing or two.
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Much Joy
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