The typical and almost knee-jerk reaction to say to Fabrizio Moretti's alter-band Little Joy is that they are Spanish Strokes. The definition is basically justified when singer is Rodrigo Amarante of Los Hermanos, and the fact that it really does sound like the Strokes if they were slowed down a little and had a little bit of a Spanish jive to them. This isn't a bad thing at all, almost makes for a better Strokes album than their most recent effort, but doesn't make for revolutionary music either.
That being said, the style that the band has created is unique to its own. Most of the songs are laid-back and drift in and out of the eardrums of the listener, never commanding the attention but occupying a nice void in the background. The main points that it hits really well are in the more harder tunes. Opener "The Next Time Around" quickly sets the listener up for what could be a good concept for an album, a nice call-and-response from the lead singer to, well, himself, and then a nice middle 8 from Binki works well and hits all the right notes. Too bad the rest of the album doesn't hold up nearly as well.
The slower tunes are the album's blessing and curse. The band seems to handle rocking ones in a fairly competent way, despite "How To Hang A Warhol"'s clunkiness. "Shoulder to Shoulder" is a nice slow and suspenseful song, covering touch, intimacy, love, all that fun stuff in a nice sensual way without sounding boring. But then "Play the Part" can't seem to hold the same token, never going anywhere and just going round in circles. "Evaporar" does the same thing, a ballad that just doesn't really get the stride it's trying to get so bad.
Most of the songs just sound like unfinished numbers, like a mediocre White Stripes album. This is interesting seeing as Little Joy worked on these demos for months before finalizing the album, but with a little more fine-tuning the songs could work better. They seem to be lacking any real dimension to the tracks, just meandering in and out of the rhythm that Moretti has set up. The album isn't all low points, I make it sound a lot worse than it really is. "Brand New Start" pops and fizzles in all the right places and is the sing-along that most bands dream about having. "Keep Me In Mind" is the one song that uses all elements just as well as the opener.
Little Joy has potential to be more than just a side project of The Strokes. It will take a bit more of an effort from the band, which is a shame because this album is a lot of work in the making. It's got enough character and quality on its own that it can become a good side project, possibly the best of all of the Strokes various side projects (I'm looking at you, Nickel Eye). Until there's more direct motivation from the band to not sound lazy and really inhabit this laid-back sound, either through the more whimsy and fun that is found in some of these songs and not the boredom that the others emote, and it could be a fun ride to watch.
Standout Track: "Brand New Start"
Overall Rating: 7.2
* Let's count the members of the band and where they're from: Drummer from The Strokes, Fabrizio Moretti, plays guitar on tour, and did drums and other instruments on the album. Singer from Los Hermanos, Rodrigo Amarante, is the singer and guitarist in Little Joy. And finally Binki Shapiro, a female multi-instrumentalist.
* Album was produced by Noah Georgeson, a native of San Francisco. He's released his own albums and has produced many of Devendra Banhart's albums, along with Joanna Newsom and Bert Jansch.
* Little Joy was created after Los Hermanos and The Strokes were playing a festival in Libson, Portugal, in 2006. They joked that they should form a band. Amarente was in L.A. working on Devendra Banhart's album and would hang out with Moretti to talk about anything but music. They worked on some music following the sessions.
* The band name comes from a cocktail bar not far from the house that the album was created.
* Album was released on Election day of the famous 2008 election.
* Moretti and Amarante are both fluent Portuguese speakers, hence some of the lyrics on the album.
* Binki is also girlfriend of Fabrizio.
* Translation of the Portuguese at the end of "Next time around:"
I'll belong to you
that's how its meant to be
Now let's only begin
* And here's "Evorar" while I'm at it:
Time we have
As we give
Run the race
Whatever it takes
Time we give
As we have
The cost to run
The corresponding cost
The time I lost
Only now I know
Learning to give
Which was won
E'm still ago
That time has
I could not run
I find it
Ahh do not move
Hummingbird in the air
The river is there
The water is gone
Tide comes in
He turns sea
Shed in the sky
Ahh leaves behind
Salts and minerals, evaporate!