Simon Joyner - Step Into The Earthquake 2xLP
Simon Joyner is among America’s best songwriters, so says Gillian Welch, Conor Oberst, Kevin Morby, and others. With his new double LP, Step Into The Earthquake, the songwriter strikes for the personal while acknowledging that the times they are a-changin’ around us again. In fact, things are leaning shitty right now, and the characters in Joyner’s songs experience the dissolution of comfort amid anxious concerns regarding our turbulent times. Some of this is addressed directly in his most overtly political songs since his Room Temperature days, but it's primarily the way the characters behave and the near fatalism they confront in their daily lives. We all feel it, and natural disasters aside, avoiding acknowledgement of earthquakes emanating within can cause the most damage.
Joyner traverses the human predicament, in general, and the American psyche specifically, using fiction to tell difficult truths. Characters struggle through personal crises while absorbing America's currently failing experiment. “Galveston” details a couple's doomed trip to visit a loved one dying in a hospital. “Illuminations” and “Annie’s Blues” explore the difficult relationships between parents and their adult children. “I’m Feeling It Today” slowly expands from an individual level in the first verse, through a couple’s relationship problems in the second, to the systems of oppression in the third, ending with the whole country’s state of being as the song concludes, taking place on election night from an Omaha bar. The epic last song on the album, "I Dreamed I Saw Lou Reed Last Night," takes up the whole fourth side and it's part dream, part invocation. Both Lou Reed and Woody Guthrie are channeled so that Joyner may follow their lead, holding a final mirror up to America as the album concludes. At the heart of this song cycle is the desire to connect in a time of upheaval.
To record, Joyner’s band, the Ghosts, holed up with longtime collaborator, Michael Krassner (Boxhead Ensemble), in Omaha's ARC Studio, developing songs from skeletal foundations (captured on the limited edition The Phoenix Demos) to full-on group efforts. Hence, each compositions’ power comes equally from the lyrics working in tandem with the subtle arrangements.
Joyner’s vision may be dark but it stops short of nihilism. Where do we go from here? The best move towards answering that question is knowing where we stand right now. Joyner's expansive album offers a poet’s truthful view, however disconcerting, that to survive whatever is coming for us, we have to confront and understand it first. So, go ahead and step into the earthquake.