Joy Electric – The Otherly Opus Promotional bio
by Chris M. Short
Unearthly sounds whiz-and-whir from left channel to right, synth lines gurgle upward like oxygen escaping a bottomless pool, melodic leads strut, mystifying counter-melodies wrap around thoroughly catchy choruses, hooks percolate and dig deep, and ethereal/avant vocal arrangements deliver melodies that soar from the earth’s crust to the heavens. Welcome to The Otherly Opus, the ninth album from Tooth & Nail’s most creative and prolific band and brainchild of Ronnie Martin, Joy Electric.
“I wanted to make something that combined all the stuff I’ve done over the last six or seven years since The White Songbook [into] a magical sounding record,” he states. In addition to his usual synth pop sound, he charts a new direction with a confident wall of vocals. He simply states, “I wanted to do a vocal album.” By diminishing bass lines and stripping beats to a minimalist-primitive essence, the songs are filled with mood and mystery unlike any previous Joy Electric release. “The title is sort of a nod to the old school Joy E kind of thing, outside the norm, hence the word ‘otherly’. So it’s really pretentious basically. Like they all are. Just continuing with the trend I guess,” he says, laughing.
The Otherly Opus is the fifth and final installment of the Legacy series of concept albums, but goes farther to eschew the genre’s bloated connotation. Martin explains, “I wanted to do a concept record that was short. You think ‘concept’, you start thinking ten minute epics. I said, ‘No’ take all the ideas of that – the overblown vocals, the bombastic titles – then put it in short songs. I thought it was an interesting way to take it.” Thus, the record is essentially two mini-concept records merged together. The first five tracks comprise The Otherly Opus, a collection of classic, early Joy Electric songs (think 1996’s, Old Wives Tales) and in Martin’s words, “it’s an escapist magical fantasy kind of thing, a little on the personal side and goes through these singular topics”. The final five tracks comprise The Memory Of Alpha, opulently dynamic songs which, according to Martin, “deal with the fall of Adam and Eve, that antediluvian period of biblical history.”
A masterfully exquisite cavalcade of vocals, singing a one-word mantra of the word “otherly”, starts the record. It is a resounding statement of this new direction: integrating and emphasizing the prominence of the vocal (some songs contain over fifty vocal tracks), and infusing Martin’s trademark sound to magnificent results. On the ridiculously catchy “Colours In Dutch”, the countless vocal tracks add a Lynchian subconscious buzz. He plays it even more weirdly on the compelling, and admittedly, over-the-top “The Memory Of Alpha” and “Red Will Dye These Snows Of Silver”, of which, he states was the “That’s it” moment in the recording process. The haunting “Ponderance Need Not Know” and ambient-beauty of “A Glass To Count All The Hours” demonstrate how the vocals-first mentality brings mood to his pop.
From a technological perspective (something very dear to Martin and his process), he exclusively used analog sequencers on this record. This takes his self-imposed “all analog” constraint to the next level. “You’re not really playing keyboard anymore, you’re just setting knobs to the pitch of the note, and then you’re playing the sequencer to play the part that you set. It’s the most mechanical way, it’s not very songwriter oriented what-so-ever! It’s the opposite of songwriting, but I found a way of combining it with that.” Doing so, he has created a nearest-to-pure analog recording.
Over the last thirteen years, Joy Electric has released eight full-length albums, eight EPs, three singles, three compilations, and one DVD, each a collection of sheer classic pop songwriting and experimental electronic construction. It’s no secret that every record Martin has created at his Electric Joy Toy Company is out to prove something, to do something different, and to challenge not only the listener, but also the creator. It’s this long, enduring relationship between the listener and the music maker that makes each Joy Electric record essential listening. So when you first drop the virtual needle on The Otherly Opus, the head-turning is inevitable.