Molly Joyce – Lean Back and Release

Spoiler Warning: The Leftovers season 2

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Michael Hamad said in his article, “Joyce chases intersections between the seen and the unseen, how solo performances aren’t really solo performances, the way backing tracks push back on a performer, and maybe a few other ideas.” When I went and saw the record release to Vicky Chow’s A O R T A, it was a pleasure to see her perform the work composed by Joyce entitled Rave (personally it was my second favorite piece of the album behind Vick(i/y)). Hamad’s words resonate with me as I think back to that performance. At first, I was put off by the use of a backing track; I was wondering to myself why they didn’t just have another performer join Chow on stage. By the end of the piece, I had been so blown away that I hadn’t thought back to it until I read this article by Hamad. I’m now putting together that this was intentional by Joyce. And you know what? That’s awesome. This is a space that, not only do I not see currently being pushed (at least within my limited sphere of experience) but I was also so quick to dismiss it of being a section of music that should be explored (see: my internal reaction at Chow’s record release). I don’t want to stay on Rave too long as I’m excited to get into Lean Back and Release, but I’ll just say that the melody line that appears at around 7:49 in the higher register of the piano is such a resolving climax that gets me amped up every time I hear it.

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Lean Back and Release: Joyce’s first release to her name on New Am Records (of which everyone should subscribe to). Right out of the gate the solo violin came out at a piercing register, yet I found the melody to be catchy enough to be a theme (that I do not believe ever gets revisited). Very quickly the piece settles into its groove with the backing tracks that I am now familiar with Joyce using. Around the 3 minute mark, the backing track reaches a point where it is as prominent as the violin, and in doing so, echoing Hamad, pushing back against the performer. It is only after that part dies down around 4:15 when the violin is back in the spotlight do I first realize how far down the pitch has traveled (even with the knowledge that there is a descending theme at play). During a relisten, I reached that part and then immediately restarted the piece to clearly hear how large the difference is, and it is enormous. When the piece seems to be centered around descending through these tones, I expected for a more blunt and in-your-face way of accomplishing this, but this was fluid. As an aside, within the fiction reading that I do, there is a ton of work that sets out to accomplish something, but the characters are just a vehicle. They don’t feel real or have emotions that resonate deeply, and it becomes obvious that they are a vehicle for whatever the author is trying to accomplish. Even if Joyce set out with the intention of this descending-of-tones piece, it didn’t feel fake. It didn’t feel like this composition and instrumentation was merely a vehicle for that intention. This is something she pulls off again with the following track.

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Shapeshifter. Every time I put this on, I get lost in the piece and don’t realize when the backing track has taken on long tones and the live violin pizzicato. That to me is a sign that this piece is just as fluid as the last, able to showcase the transfer of control without being abrupt in the manner by which it is presented. The ending, starting at around 5:55, is very emotional to me. When the live violin has conformed to the pizzicato of the backing track, it’s almost like witnessing a successful mind control after hearing the violin resist during the previous minutes. The first piece of a cross-media parallel I can think of is the end of season 2 of The Leftovers, specifically around 38:30 of the finale. Evie is revealed to be a part of the Guilty Remnant and the screen just focuses on the emotional turmoil that her parents are going through, all sound being cut except for Max Richter slowly building behind them. To her parents, it appears that the Guilty Remnant have brainwashed her, and to see Evie just staring away from her mom, not caring at all, not speaking, dressed in all white, smoking… It evokes the same emotions that I felt at the end of Shapeshifter. Those were season-long emotions that were built up over time and reinforced across multiple mediums, and for Shapeshifter to hit those same emotions makes me very excited for Joyce’s future output. Whether or not my own perception is skewed by having felt those emotions and being moved by them is up for debate, but regardless, this EP was great. Not only was it great, but it doesn’t sound even slightly similar to what was accomplished with Rave, which means I have no worries about whether or not she will be a one-trick pony (not that New Am has ever put out stuff by any such people before).

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