Tica Douglas – Joey (Album Review, Stream)
by Steven Spoerl
Now that the site’s all caught up on full streams and documentaries, I’ll be damned if I let it slip back behind. As new records roll in, the ones that catch my ear will be written about in this very space. The exact same can be said for music documentaries, whether they’re shorts or feature-length pieces. On the latter count, I’d be remiss not to bring up the oddly compelling (and genuinely heartfelt) Noah Abrams doc, Butch Walker – Afraid of Ghosts, which features one of the most intriguing cameo roster in recent memory. Representing the recently-unearthed full stream selection, there’s the frantic post-punk skronk of Pill’s self-titled EP and april is over, the delicate (and stark) collection of wistful tape demos that comes courtesy of Catherine DeGenarro’s solo project, hairpins. While that trio of media is deserving of rapt attention, it’s Tica Douglas‘ legitimately extraordinary Joey that will be the focus of tonight’s piece.
Meticulously crafted and deeply felt, Joey announces itself via the title track- a devastating meditation on identity. As soon as the line “If I were born a boy, they were gonna call me Joey” lands, the record begins sprawling out in increasingly stunning displays of doubt, self-examination, and- finally- defiantly unwavering strength. That strength is gained through self-confidence, sense of purpose, and towering conviction; three elements that seep through Joey‘s embattled veins, even at its most intentionally ugly moments (the guitarwork in the back half of “Mornings After Nights Like Those” is nothing short of brilliant). As the record progresses, with an endless stream of stunning songs cascading down on whoever’s fortunate enough to have hit play, the personal trials that Douglas had to face become a concrete subtext which winds up cloaking the affair in a layer of understated sadness, even at its most celebratory peaks.
Importantly, the band that Douglas has assembled, match rapier storytelling with equally sharp playing. Echoes of the likes of Elliott Smith and Cat Power are clearly evidence in the compositions, with even more classic touchpoints illuminating songs like the monumental “Black & White” (the record’s most exhilarating moment), in which Douglas promises a never-ending allegiance that doubles as a blinding declaration of character and integrity. It’s one a select few songs on Joey that breaks from the confessional finger-picking mold that gives the record its slow-beating heart. That’s not to say Joey ever falls into the trap of overt repetition; it’s masterfully composed from start to finish- even a cursory listen would betray Douglas’ enviable songwriting prowess. Even though the jaw-dropping grandeur of “Black & White” elevates an already outstanding record to another place, it’s the penultimate song that yields Joey‘s most arresting moment.
Stripping skin back to the bone, “All Meanness Be Gone” emphasizes the record’s most bravely vulnerable aspects; nothing will ever be perfect and there’s always going to be company waiting in the wings of life’s most tragic moments. Uphill battles will always have to be fought but when those wars are waged with genuinely good purpose, the scars earned on those battlefields will become scars that are worn proudly. The song’s sense of time, sense of place, and sense of history is astounding, with Douglas’ weary delivery and gentle melodies rendering the affair an absolutely devastating blow. By the time it winds down to a hushed whisper, “All Meanness Be Gone” cements Joey‘s chances at becoming a future cult classic. “My My My” provides a relatively fiery end-cap to the proceedings as an all-encompassing epilogue. When everything’s been laid on the table and the medical scans have been printed, it’s not difficult to marvel at how complete Joey winds up being. Healing fractures, bones bracing for their break, and a beating heart that refuses to cease constitute Joey– and the stubbornness in refusing to disguise those wounds or subvert them into something else make Joey a release to treasure.
Listen to Joey in full below and pre-order the record Swell Records here.