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Little Joy – Little Joy

Release on Rough Trade Records (November 4, 2008)

I wasn’t sure what to expect upon learning of the collaboration between Fabrizio Moretti, drummer for The Strokes, and Rodrigo Amarante, guitarist and songwriter for the Brazilian-based indie rock band Los Hermanos. I will admit - I can get down with some Strokes. When I hear a steady four-on-the-floor coupled with a melodic bass line and drawling, affected vocals, I am happy as a clam in the ocean of rock, or perhaps…a rock lobster? Sure, there are many things about The Strokes that are ridiculous. After all, they did seem to appear just in time to take the place of `N Sync, four cookie cutter fellows with a bit more of an edge and a knack for making headlines in Us Weekly. But at least they write their own songs, play their own music and don’t prance around like puppet ponies on stage. However borrowed and self-indulgent their songs happen to be, more often than not they are, in the very least, palatable and at best, almost good. I will not say that the missing ingredient to success in this formula is Moretti, Amarante, and Los Angeles-based musician Binki Shapiro’s self-titled debut, but it is a truly pleasant exploration of roots rock intertwined with bossa nova and the Ye-Ye movement of 1960s France, that ends up being quite enjoyable.

The tracks on Little Joy all clock-in under three minutes long, a good way to keep each song fresh without the tedious triple chorus repeat or extended guitar solo. Also good because honestly, there is not a whole lot going on, and it may be that this very simplicity is what drives the sincerity of the album as a whole. The production levels are low in comparison to the members’ previous projects. Each calloused scrape on guitar strings and coarse crackle in strained vocals leads the listener back to simpler times, to the roots of rock, folk, and reggae. The album opens with “The Next Time Around”, showcasing plucked hints of bluegrass turned Spanish cancion and quickly flipping into a bossa nova style jazz piece with the Francoise Hardy-style vocals of Shapiro harmonizing with Amarante’s drawl and taking a moment to solo in Portuguese before the track wraps in just over two and a half minutes. “Brand New Start” begins with a classic 60s guitar lick and doo-wop vocals maintaining that “[t]here ain’t no lover like the one I got” which leads us into the next of a series of short and earnest love songs akin to moonlit serenades and early Jimmy Stewart flicks. “No One’s Better Sake” rolls in like an early Studio One track, the rocksteady organ and up-stroke guitar countered by the smooth and lilting backing harmonies over Amarante’s signature drawl and Moretti’s steady rhythms.

Little Joy ambles on as such, each track a multi-generational and cross-cultural selection of the classic influential sub-genres of rock music as we know it today. From Bridget Bardot and Serge Gainsbourg to Lee “Scratch” Perry and Leonard Cohen, Little Joy unite the styles of early rebel rock with slightly more modern production elements and multi-cultural references culminating in a smooth and charming listen.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars