In 2009, Portland, OR based artist Jerry Joiner released his first and only full-length project under the moniker, “Girlfriends”. This day marks the ten-year anniversary of the album, and I just so happened to stumble upon it when browsing the similar artist tab under the band Invalids while on Spotify. I was very excited to give this album a listen because it fell under the category of math rock, a subgenre of primarily instrumental rock music that I would consider to be one of my favorites. I wanted to see what Joiner would do differently from some of my favorite math rock groups ranging from Death Grips drummer Zach Hill’s first project, Hella, to the small California based group, Pookie, that has less than a thousand listeners per month on Spotify. On Joiner’s debut album, he takes a new spin on the math rock subgenre via the integration of electronic loops and emo vocals unlike most contemporary math rock artists which stick with organic instrumentation.
Joiner mixes intricate arrhythmic drumming, catchy minimalistic guitar riffs, electronic loops, and emo vocals that, lyrics aside, convey so much emotion through their passionate delivery. The lyrics on the album range from themes of youth, relationships, religion, and mourning. Joiner often uses both nature and inanimate objects (such as clothes in the case of Brobocop) as a metaphor for topics (this is further explained later on in the review). Though they take some time to dissect, none of the lyrical meaning is ever blatantly handed to you. The lyrics are minimal enough that each person is able to take away what they want from them, though if you notice the imagery you can connect the pieces to form a pattern.
Every track on Girlfriends is memorable in its own unique way. There is the diversity of a few purely instrumental tracks (New Computers, Chex Urself B4 U Rex Urself, End) and others that feature the shouty, emo vocals of Joiner. The intricate, fast-paced drum performance is nothing short of spectacular and is only complimented by manipulated electronic beats placed over a handful of songs (namely, Bernie Mac Attack and Untitled #3, two of my personal favorites). The guitar riffs are angular and catchy, but never extend into something as complicated as an Invalids or even Lightning Bolt song, yet this isn’t a hindrance. The minimalist riffs are perfect for getting looped in your head, but allow you to primarily focus on the drumming. The combination of these components creates a beautiful, cohesive piece that is unique to Joiner, but his drumming is what shines brightest on this record. An example of this is within the track New Computers, in which Joiner integrates the unusual and fast paced sound of his drumsticks hitting the bracket of his drum set.
Tracks like Untitled #3 and The Apocalypse Made Me Brave are some of the most emotional. Though The Apocalypse Made Me Brave is the slowest track on the album, it is one of the most powerful I’ve heard all year. The track goes into ambiguous detail about Joiner and his relationship with God. He starts the track explaining how his own maturation and free will changed his relationship with God and the final turning point was the death of his mother. The later end of the song finishes with these powerful vocals, stating, “He wasn’t there at all” as Joiner now confirms this loss of faith in his own life. The track ends in gorgeous fashion via drums kicking in at full force, accompanying the once solo guitar.
Though I have only given high praise toward this LP, unfortunately it does contain a few minor flaws. The two tracks, Patrick Ewing and Untitled #5 feature poor vocal mixing, as the vocals of Joiner are drowned out by the instrumentation. Though I had to look up the lyrics to every song in order to fully understand each track, the two aforementioned ones were far more indistinguishable in relation to the rest of the track listing. With a brief twenty-seven-minute run time, I also found that some of my favorite tracks were a bit too short and could have used another verse with a return to chorus/hook before closing.
Joiner’s mix of the “poppy” electronic math rock of Foal’s 2008 record Antitodes, and emo vocals similar to bands like Kidcrash make for a beautifully chaotic LP like no other. Unlike Foals, I’d like to hope Joiner would have decided to stick with this math rock sound and experiment in other directions. It truly is a shame that we haven’t seen Joiner put out any projects since this 2009 gem, but if he returns, I’ll be ready.
Favorite Tracks: ALL OF THEM