Faith & Apathy, the most recent EP by Jo Atto finds the Portland musician stringing together a series of juxtapositions. The songs are inherently minimalist, but also are layered quite densely. Oftentimes jangly guitar riffs are front and center, although they're frequently looped and treated like another electronic element. Some songs are soulful and dynamic, while others are more or less one riff that sees various elements added and stripped over the course of a few minutes. Ultimately, Faith & Apathy is a genre-muddling, laid back foray into various electronica elements and song structuring with soulful singing and generally enough ambience to convey a dreamy, trip-hop feel.
The album opens with the leisured-yet-upbeat guitar and soul romp, “No One Needs.” The guitar bounces between a dangling riff and quick-stroked chords with a bell set in the background and vocals that alternate between a cool, clean delivery and fuzzed out harmonies. As a whole the song is a series of starts and stops, seemingly an endless shift between two gears, but Jo Atto varies the levels of the layers enough each time that he circles around the riff that the song feels like more than just a loop.
The riffing on repetition is a double-edged sword on the album. When done right, the songs serve as a vehicle for a really cool chord progression or theme but, on the other hand, sometimes the songs are too cloistered around that central idea and just end up sounding muddled and repetitive. Sometimes this can work in service of binding songs on an album together, but can also make for an individual track that doesn't very well represent the album writ large.
The vocals on this album are also all over the place. Half the tracks involve—perhaps not entirely, but in part—vocals that are buried, just beneath the surface in the mix. That works fine when the music is moving along and the vocals are acting in support, but less so when the music itself is repetitive and relying on the vocals to distinguish this verse from the next.
That said, when the vocals are on point, they are superb. The track “EP” (seemingly for “Emotional Procrastination”) stands out on this album and on its own two feet as an excellent song. The song features some of the cleanest and clear, soulful vocals, with lines like, “life's passing me by, I just want to get on board.” While the sparse, ringing guitar and near break beat percussion fills the song out, a stellar backing vocal melody that loops nearly throughout it is what really makes the song.
As a whole, Jo Atto's sound is a diverse mix of genres with uniform song construction. The EP is a mix of trip-hop, indie-tronica, some light R&B and soul as well as elements of psychedelic guitar and faint echoes of indie rock. The song construction with repetitive electronics songs often spun around a single guitar riff or two reminded me of Thom Yorke's solo effort The Eraser—not to say these two albums sound a ton alike, though. Vocally, I was reminded of TV On The Radio by Jo Atto's ability to switch from drone-y and continuous lines to soulful affectations.
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