How would an album sound like if it were full of lyrics inspired by Hallmark cards? Australian singer-songwriter Vance Joy has the answer for you – his sophomore album, Nation of Two.
The 45-minute album is almost an entirely acoustic set, and any two songs can be interchanged without much difference to the flow of the album. While listening to this album over the past week and a half, any change in tracks was not particularly noticed, which could be detrimental to the entire purpose of creating 13 tracks for an album- depending on whom you ask.
Joy, whose real name is James Keogh, released his first album Dream Your Life Away, which contained hits such as ‘Riptide’ and ‘From Afar’ back in 2015. Unquestionably a better album, DYLA had a far more inspired mix of tracks and showed his willingness to experiment with his sound.
However, the Melbourne native seems to have found his comfort in the familiar tune of indie folk. The album has three distinctive hits – ‘Call If You Need Me’, ‘We’re Going Home’, and ‘I’m With You’. Most songs are again difficult to differentiate, especially ‘Call If You Need Me’ and ‘Like Gold’, which have identical arpeggiated guitar intros.
Lyrically, the album feels like a perfect fit for a Heath Ledger rom-com. In ‘Crashing Into You’, Joy goes, “You came along, you light up my day. My personal sun,” followed by an all-too-familiar hook tune. On ‘Saturday Sun’, he romanticises the sun again, saying, “Oh Saturday Sun, I met someone. No ray of sunlight’s ever lost.”
Joy returns to his trusty ukulele for ‘Saturday Sun’, and mixes it well with a banjo towards the climax of the song. The banjo makes another appearance on ‘Little Boy’, as Joy shows some promise of widening his choice of strings.
On ‘Lay It On Me’, one can start noticing and appreciating the production that has gone behind the album. The various layers of harmonies and enthusiastic tempo almost makes it seem like an upbeat Ben Howard track.
The flow of the album is quite smooth. Nation of Two effortlessly transitions between any two songs, which makes it an incredibly soothing album to pop in and play in the background, while one finishes up some work. There is little presence of any percussions throughout the album, and when there is, it kicks in a good 45 to 50 seconds into the song.
Although the lyrics are predominantly about love and heartbreaks, Joy’s masterful strumming and voice full of yearns will ebb away most of your concerns.
However, the monotony of both lyrics as well as the songs is what ultimately rings the death knell for Joy’s sophomore endeavour. Although the constant acoustic melodies, accompanied by his melodious vocals are a good formula, it gets boring rather fast, and it becomes difficult to get excited about a re-listen over time.
The Vance Joy faithful, however, will love the album. It brings more of what the debut album had in store and promises a path that Joy has chosen for himself and his music going forward. It’s reflected in its good performance at the charts, where Nation of Two is number one in Australia and number 10 in the USA. Whether it is a path that he wants to pursue for the rest of his career is a debate to be had another day. For now, Joy has found his niche as a singer-songwriter and seems comfortable in his space.