Since releasing his debut way back in 1993, Simon Joyner has very quietly built quite an impressive canon that features 11 full-length albums and a smattering of EPs and singles recorded for a wide variety of labels. That would be an impressive career output for any recording artist, let alone someone who is, at this point, relatively unknown outside of a few circles. But despite such a generous back catalog the Omaha, NE native has long flown under the radar, no doubt perpetuated by his aversion to both touring and interviews. If you’ve been paying attention to PHW over the past few months than you should be aware that Joyner is releasing album #12 this week - his Team Love debut, Out Into The Snow. I’ve been talking about Out Into The Snow for a while now and have listened to it so much since June that the fact that it’s just now being officially released is, for me, hard to believe. The record has such a dusty, lived-in quality that it already sounds like an old favorite of mine despite its relative youth. Needless to say, it has asserted itself as one of my favorite albums of 2009.
Out Into The Snow is an assured collection of acoustic guitar and piano-driven folk songs that, on the surface, are not dissimilar to some of Joyner’s obvious inspirations - Townes Van Zandt and Tonight’s The Night/On The Beach-era Neil Young. Joyner’s songwriting is continually characterized by the imagistic over the literal - his songs and stories are often non-linear journeys in which words are used like paints on an impressionistic canvas, creating worlds that blur the line between lucid ideas and dream-like narratives. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the album-opening nautical outlaw-tale “The Drunken Boat”. At 9 ½ minutes the song offers a winding, hallucinatory narrative of a man, who may or may not be imagining his sordid past, and his voyage home by way of the sea. Both its length, Joyner’s weary, waterlogged vocals, and the disconnectedness between several of its sections call to mind Lou Reed’s “Street Hassle”, especially when, at the 6-minute mark, everything drops out save Joyner’s voice and a haunting violin courtesy of Laraine Kaizer. In and of itself it’s a stunning song, as well as a brave way to kick off an album full of characters searching for new beginnings. Thankfully the other songs don’t get trapped under the rather intimidating shadow it casts. Other highlights, such as “The Arsonist”, “Ambulances”, and the stark title track (aided by beautiful harmonies from Sarah Gleason), are equally as ambitious and stirring.
At this point I‘ve only just started to scratch the surface of Joyner‘s back catalog - both The Skeleton Blues and Lost With The Lights On, released in 2006 and 2004 respectively, by Jagjaguwar, are available at eMusic and are well worth checking out. But other than those 2 and the free retrospective Team Love released a few weeks ago I‘m still playing catch up. I do feel pretty comfortable saying though that Out Into The Snow is the full blossoming of Joyner’s persistent, undeniable talent. “Roll On”, the album’s most rousing track, closes Out Into The Snow like a blazing, barroom outtake from the Stones' classic Sticky Fingers. It’s the album’s most immediate song and a fine place to get your feet wet, but is far from the only treasure in store. From start to finish Out Into The Snow possesses a quiet grace that rewards repeat listens. With this intricate, challenging, and ultimately beautiful song cycle Joyner should expect to start receiving the attention that is long, long overdue.
MP3 :: Out Into The Snow
MP3 :: Roll On
(from Out Into The Snow. Buy here)