Jouska are a young four-piece from Albany, NY. When i first went to look up info about the band, i just Googled the name thinking they would come up. Silly me. The word jouska apparently means "a hypothetical conversation that you compulsively play out in your head—a crisp analysis, a cathartic dialogue, a devastating comeback—which serves as a kind of psychological batting cage where you can connect more deeply with people than in the small ball of everyday life, which is a frustratingly cautious game of change-up pitches, sacrifice bunts, and intentional walks.", at least according to The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. So this band is named after an oddly baseballish kind of obscure sorrow. Huh.
Jouska the band make a kind of lo-fi distorted pop music. I hear echoes of Sonic Youth, The Underground Railroad to Candyland, Triathalon, and even The Replacements in what they are doing. It is really engaging. This is one of those records that the first time i listened to it i thought "Meh, okay i guess", but i kept it on the phone. And i kept going back to it. There is a lot going on and these songs are surprisingly complex for a band that has only been around a year or so.
Topiary is their debut record and it kicks off with a song about mimes. I think. The tune is called Marcel and it is kind of lo-fi, especially in the vocals, so it is kind of hard to focus on them. This kind of production technique runs through the entire record and sometimes gets more intense than it does here. If you think that this song is overly distorted, you should probably just walk away from Jouska right now.
Through the mumbling and the somewhat murky production the vocalist sings about something as being "the most beautiful / FUCK YOU / I've ever seen". A pretty clever line, and after that the song gets noisy with lots of drumming and layers of guitars grinding against each other.
On Super the vocalist whines over a grinding guitar in a way that reminds me, ever so slightly, of mid 1990s Britpop. Maybe it is the odd pronunciation here, which seems kind of Stone Roses-y. And let me point out that the vocalist is apparently named Doug Dulgarian, which honestly sounds like the name of someone that battles Spiderman...
The next song on the record is a stunner. Changeling is fuzzy and slow, a lethargic stoner tune steeped in Replacements slacker rock ethos. Dulgarian sings great here, his voice lovely over the fuzz and the tinkling keyboard bit. I also hear echoes of Triathalon here, especially in the falsetto on the bridge. It's a great swinging tune.
Jouska get their Tortoise on for the start of Voyeur with drums that click and clack as guitars and bass throw out big reverbing hits. It grows slowly into a song dripping distortion, the guitars echoed to hell and back and fuzzier for the journey, much like something that SIANspheric would have done. And yet, at the heart of the song is a lovely melody, Dulgarian and his band harmonizing. This is interesting and pretty and noisy all at the same time.
On in Vestal one guitar just vibrates, creating a nice drone that Dulgarian's distorted voice echoes over. This is a lo-fi tune with the epicness of an early 1980s U2 song, Bono and the boys on a shoestring budget, more ideas than recording capability.
Next Jouska give us a short interlude called Remembering to Breathe, a minute or so of ambient spaciness keyboard and samples all reverbing slowly. It morphs into Kissing Through Yr Teeth which starts slowly, lo-fi, the drums half heard as the guitars pick out a chiming little melody, the voice echoed and far. And then, suddenly at about a minute in, the chugging drums explode, a bass riff riding in and suddenly parting the fuzz so that the drums are cymbal heavy and in the front, thudding away for a few seconds before stopping suddenly, as the guitar picks it back up and that chugging yet distant beat comes back in. (Seriously, some hip-hip artist needs to ample that beat, it's really cool!) Jouska repeat this process a few times, and it really works. Another great tune from them.
Friend of a Friend is mellower, one guitar keeping a nice beat while one grinds and wails. The whole song is fuzzed to heck and back, but it is kind of catchy. And finally we end with H.W.K.I.H.S., a rare acoustic song. An acoustic guitar plucks away and Dulgarian's voice is more delicate and less fuzzy, more like he is only half-singing in the distance, way behind the guitar.
Overall, this is a fun record. Jouska have a lot of ideas and i am curious to see where they go from here.