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No Joy by Spanish Love Songs
How does a band follow an incredible record? Who is asking them to do so? Why do I insist on creating straw man arguments for no reason?
I fell in love with Spanish Love Songs during the pandemic. I wrote about it in November of 2021 when I talked about five albums that helped get me through the pandemic. Even in doing my very best to honor the SLS album Brave Faces Everyone, and everything it meant to me at the time and means to me to this day, I think I still undersold it. That’s how much I love those songs and how much they continue to mean to me. I don’t know that words were enough to express it.
Fast forward to a slightly less pandemicky world… I saw the band live for the first time, opening at The House of Blues. I got to see them again with my 13-year-old son at Mahall’s, where I got to show my son what it means to be in a small club with every person screaming every word of every song back at a band in a sweaty mass of humanity. It was an all-timer. All of this is to say just how much I have to crank my neck upward to see this band on the tall pedestal I created. So, how does this band follow this record? How could they ever follow it?
Let’s be honest about something. None of this narrative that I’m discussing is real. This is a false drama created by super fans like me. It’s never a zero-sum game. No matter what a band does after an iconic record, it doesn’t destroy the art that came before it. And make no mistake, I’m not commenting on Spanish Love Songs’ follow-up record No Joy, at least not yet. I’m speaking generically about my personal psychosis in anticipation of a new record that’s following something I will cherish forever and ever.
On the one hand, I’m defensive of Brave Faces Everyone and consider it unfollowable. On the other hand, I’m defensive of the incredible artists who deserve to keep making art and moving forward in the face of something so great.
And now I’m looking in the mirror. Why am I like this? Why can’t I just enjoy art and let the pieces fall where they may? Why must I create narratives around these things?
Who are Spanish Love Songs?
Alright, for those who don’t know, Spanish Love Songs is a rock, punk, emo band based in L.A. Dylan Slocum is the singer and guitarist. His wife Meredith Van Woert plays keyboards and sings backup vocals. Kyle McAulay plays guitar, Trevor Dietrich plays bass and sings wonderful live harmonies. Ruben Duarte plays drums. Every member feels perfect in their roles, but I’m always taken by the rhythm section in person. The bass and drums are sometimes easier to pass over on the recordings, but seeing these two in person is impressive. That’s not to take anything away from anyone else in the band. It’s just to pass along a special compliment to the rhythm section.
Which brings me to their newest record, No Joy. My anticipation for this record was off the charts. The band started releasing tracks ahead of its release at the end of August and I gobbled each one up as I waited to hear the entire record in context.
The bottom line is that No Joy isn’t Brave Faces Everyone. It’s good. It’s very good. It’s different without feeling like the band made wholesale changes. It’s not better. It’s not worse. It’s just good and new and different. It doesn’t sound like a sequel. Let’s get to it and talk about it in detail.
No Joy is more accessible and poppy than Brave Faces. I hear a little less punk and maybe a little more new wave. If I’m making a comparison, I hear The Killers a little bit. That’s not an insult on my part. The keys stick out more. It’s maybe a little less dramatic, but not that much less.
The album opens with “Lifers.” In the verse, I hear some acoustic guitar strumming. The chorus goes up without exploding. It’s accented with buttery electric guitars. It’s a driving tune that feels almost hopeful as Dylan Slocum sings, “It’s never adding up, but don’t write yourself out of the equation.”
Next up is “Pendulum.” It is easily my favorite song on the record. It features the album title heavily in the lyrics.
But I know what they say when I walk in the light
There's no joy in my life
There's no joy when I'm right
I know what they say when I walk in the light
There's no joy
For me, it’s all about the bridge. The verse and chorus are great, but the bridge just makes it for me. One of my favorite things about Spanish Love Songs is how the vocals can sound like every word is the most important thing ever sung. This song sounds very much like that to me.
“Haunted” was the first track released in the lead-up to the album. It’s easily the most “Killers” track on the record that led me to draw the comparison. It’s one of the rare times that singer Dylan Slocum is sans guitar on stage. It sounds so big live with Trevor Dietrich carrying the majority of the harmonies until the whole band carries the “whoa whoas” in the post-chorus. And that’s where the accessibility of this record comes in.
The whole crowd can scream along to this one by the time the band hits the chorus the second time.
I won’t go through all the tracks, but I have to talk about “Clean-up Crew.” It’s an album highlight, but I was thrown off at first when I heard how the band sung “I whistle while I work!” on the record. It’s weird how things that catch your attention as feeling strange, can quickly become your favorite things about a piece of art. The first time I heard it, it pulled me out of the song and felt out of place, but now it’s an inextricable part of the song that I cherish.
“So fuck the garden in the yard, we can barely tend to our own dreams.”
I love that line so much.
I’m going to pick just two more to talk about. “Marvel” is another album highlight to go along with “Rapture Chaser.” “Marvel” is both somewhat understated and driving. It’s the kind of song you’d be grooving to in your car and all of a sudden realize you’re going 10 MPH faster than you thought you were. The little keyboard flourish is a brainworm, and I end up hearing it in my head long after I’ve stopped listening to the song.
“Rapture Chaser” has one of the best choruses on this record. It is big and anthemic with an energetic spray of snare drum driving it along. It would have been so easy to play a simpler beat, but the drums add a layer of urgency and complexity to it that makes it feel important. I just love the whole vibe of this one.
Do I love No Joy? Yes.
Do I love it more than Brave Faces Everyone?
Is it better than Brave Faces Everyone?
I reject the premise! Yes. I created the premise, and now I’m rejecting it. It’s my straw man. If I choose to burn it, I may burn my own straw man. These are just the ramblings of a crazy person, anyway.
I hope nothing ever hits me the way that Brave Faces Everyone hit me in the depths of the worldwide pandemic. I was nervous and scared and sad all the fucking time, and I connected with this record in that headspace. It’s not only not a fair comparison; it’s an irrelevant comparison.
Nobody asked me to compare this to their last record. Nobody asked me if it was better than their last record.
Again, why am I like this? Why can’t I just enjoy things?
No Joy is another great offering by a great band that has already delivered more catharsis and joy to my life than I was owed. I like it and recommend it.