Jess Hotchkiss has 15 years experience trying to make her guitar and voice be the channel for her struggles, pain, broken relationships and other life experiences. Jess Hotchkiss goes by the moniker oh be joyful which starts to take on a couple of shades of sarcasm as you start to listen to her latest album entitled call me island. The music has a darker tone that is covered with a sometimes-yearning type of sadness that is seeking solace. Similar downer albums like “I See a Darkness” by Bonnie “Prince” Billy have a special place in my heart because of the intrinsic, transient moments of beauty that expose themselves. Music as dim and hopeless as this needs to do something quite difficult and that is not to leave the listener with those feelings. Oh be joyful does a half way decent job of leaving the listener with solace and empathy rather then hopelessness and despair.
Call me island was recorded by minimal equipment in basements and bedrooms and suffers because of it.The recordings themselves sometimes distort and you can clearly hear the poor quality preamps doing their magic to introduce unnecessary white noise that can take away from the songs at times. Some of the songs sound better then others quality-wise which cause discrepancies when listening to the album as a whole. It would suggest that the artist take the time to go into a proper studio next time around to maximize the emotional resonance of these songs.
What I liked most about the album was Hotchkiss’s voice. It didn’t sound too cute which was appropriate and instead sounded very visceral, as if she was singing from her stomach. The occasional sour note aside, her voice was fitting for the music. For instance, on “the bow” we hear a rustic acoustic guitar barely strummed as her commanding vocal performance takes center stage. The powerful voice in unison with the delicate guitar playing created a dichotomy that was quite engaging. One of the highlights was “on a mend” which had a sense of hope behind the melancholy. The song was well written and catchy enough for me to add it to a playlist on iTunes. The album ends with “extended break” which is the poppiest song on the album. Behind the poor quality is a fun song they may have even benefited from a simple drumbeat. Call me island is a melancholy album that while it suffers from poor production has moments of beauty that are undeniable.
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