Modern Times (Wave One EP)

Josh Doyle

Corporate Ogre Records, 2017

http://joshdoyle.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/15/2017

Sometimes I know I’m going to review an album from 30 seconds in; other times it takes longer. See, in addition to all the mediocre and just plain bad music out there, there’s plenty of good, by which I mean solid, professional, maybe even a little bit interesting, but not quite… special. And special is what I’m hunting for—that moment that stops me in my tracks and forces me, against my sometimes fickle and occasionally cynical nature, to care.

My first time through this EP—the first of two planned “waves” of Josh Doyle’s eventual new album Modern Times—I was in a distracted frame of mind and made it almost to the end before it found me: that moment. The first four songs are all quite good, mind you, as I discovered on subsequent listens—but the last song on this EP is the one that, for me, first made the rest of the world melt away to insignificance.

Closing tune “Keep My Mind” is a spare, keening ballad, with just Doyle’s pleasantly roadworn voice, his acoustic guitar and violin, singing about yearning and how he can’t keep his mind off the person he’s just fallen in love with. And it is riveting. The lyric is strong, and tells the story well, but what nailed my feet to the floor is Doyle’s performance—raw and unhurried and intense and absolutely authentic. It feels like you are in the room with him and this was take one, it’s that immediate and real.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Doyle’s style is a familiar one, a sort of surging, tidal, Celtic folk-rock, with strains of Van Morrison, Jeff Buckley, David Gray and Glen Hansard leeching in, his urgent, intense vocals framed only by acoustic guitar, bass, drums, and violin. Opener “Lighthouse” shows the strongest Morrison influence, building from spare and intense to cathartic bombast as Doyle sings of feeling like “A lion on a leash / Pacing these cold floors / Can’t get no relief.” It’s remarkable how he uses a minimum of instrumentation—and no electric guitar at all—to build from a quiet opening to a thunderous final chorus.

The next three tracks all have their moments as they address, indeed, modern times. “The Locust Years” is a dark, fatalistic tune propelled by an ominous kick-drum backbeat as Doyle sings: “In these locust years, I carry my fears on my back… Keep your godless holy wars / Keep your blessed nuclear bombs / I’m already dead and gone.” It’s another big, compelling number with a minimum of electric guitar. “Through The Night” dials back the volume but not the angst, simply channeling it into a softer, more melody-focused setting. “Made it through another working week / Can’t remember a thing I did… Just looking for something to get me through the night,” he sings as acoustic rhythm guitar, plaintive electric notes and swelling, anthemic choruses give this one a strong ’90s alt-rock feel. 

“Strange World” takes on hints of a hip-hop flow even as it layers on haunting, suspended electric notes. Still, the focus remains on the propulsive rhythm driving Doyle’s clipped, intense vocal delivery. “The world is sleeping through this psychic hurricane / Safe in the knowledge that they’re pawns in someone’s game / It’s a strange, strange world we’re living in today,” he sings, working up to a heavy closing jam that leaves him wailing at said world.

“Keep My Mind” might have been the one that hooked me, but upon further consideration, these are all sharply rendered tunes with a lot of promise. Doyle is no stranger to the scene, having released a self-titled debut in 2012 under the rather too-slick influence of producer John Shanks (Sheryl Crow, Melissa Etheridge, Michelle Branch). But this EP, produced by Alden Witt and Doyle, puts the focus exactly where it should be—on Doyle’s expressive, earnest, slightly eccentric and thoroughly authentic voice.

In the end, the most compelling thing about these songs is how fully invested Doyle is in them; his voice is one that convinces you, again and again, of the simplest proposition any performer can make to his audience—this song, this line, this moment, matters. So pay attention.

Rating: B+

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