reviewed by Michael Thomas
“Jouska” is an obscure word that refers to the kind of mental arguments you have between yourself and another person, usually as a means of a “psychological batting cage.” It’s an interesting choice for Gentle Party’s debut album name, and it sort of summarizes the style of the voice-cello-violin-harp quartet.
Jouska is an album of many energies: there’s intensity, tranquility, mystery, melancholy. The instruments play in tandem at some points, against each other at other points. Many of singer Jessicka’s lyrics sound like omens or warnings—in “Little Tiger,” for instance, she warns someone to stop “before it escalates.”
Focusing on just the four aforementioned parts of their music forces creativity, and there are myriad thrilling moments on the album, like in “Trophies,” where tapping on the violin and cello create some extra percussive sounds over an already-rich string-filled melody. In “Ghost Writer,” Elisa Thorn’s gorgeous harp creates an appropriately magical sound.
Sometimes, though, the songs feel at odds with one another. Jessicka’s lyrics in “HYHM” (which stands for “hurting you hurts me”) pair nicely with the strings for a song about deep emotional pain, but it’s a sharp contrast with “The Door There is Devastation,” a much longer, more experimental (and all instrumental) song. The song is a boiler room of intensity and thrilling beyond belief. But those two songs sound like they could be on different records entirely.
Still, the experimental side of the band is not wholly divorced from the chamber-pop side. An example of this is “Bee Dreams,” part of a 15-minute block of the album comprised of only two songs. At first the song sounded like it would be another long instrumental song like “Boy Children,” which builds up to a climax more than once. But “Bee Dreams” has Jessicka adding some vocals about a girl in an intense dream. And the song feels like it morphs every minute or so into something new.
One of the more chamber-pop songs is noteworthy in its own way, too. “Wound of Fate” and its plucked strings make Jessicka’s opening lyrics poignant: “Caught a train, didn’t know you could do that these days. I forgot some things stay the same.” Memory seems to be an important theme of Jouska as well—after all, your jouska is entirely based on how much you think you know about the person with whom you’re “sparring.”
In other words, Jouska is a good way to start what I think will be a long and fruitful collaboration that combines the experimental and the pop, the ethereal and the solid. There’s more than enough here to soundtrack your next weird dream.
Top Tracks: “The Door There is Devastation”; “Bee Dreams”
Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)