So here it is – my track by track review of Vance Joy’s full length debut, Dream Your Life Away:
Vance’s voice launches right in to ‘Winds of Change’ and it is a great lead-in to the album. It’s a romantic, wistful and atmospheric opener which delights in the details.
‘Mess is Mine’ is one of the stand out tracks. The drum beat, and intermittent percussive clapping, create a sense of drive and control. The lyrics are sweet and wistful again – one of my favourites is: ‘Do you like walking in the rain? / When you think of love, do you think of pain?’. Layers of instrumentation come in as the song progresses.
‘Wasted Time’ is a meditation on the nature of time, endurance and change in relationships and life in general. I love the powerful outro – the repetition of ‘the things that I thought would last / Well they’re fading, they’re fading / the feelings, I used to have / Well, they’re changing, they’re changing’ give this song a deeper edge than relationship nostalgia. It captures the fear or apprehension over the passing of time and the permanence of impermanence – the fear that something will ‘slip away’ and feeling small in the scheme of things (‘we look at the faces on your bedroom wall / well, nobody’s perfect at all / sometimes it makes me feel small’.
Ukulele hit ‘Riptide’ has perhaps suffered a bit of radio-play overkill but it is the perfect beach/surfing anthem with quirky, fun lyrics. It evokes scenes of Australia, where it’s gone platinum. It deserves its popularity but I hope people search further into Vance’s repertoire as well and don’t just rely on the mainstream radio stations for their music. It captures a sense of growing up and its vivacity has delighted festival goers.
‘Who Am I’ is another charmer, similar to the first two, posing the question ‘who am I, without you?’ but it is a prelude to the album’s gem. ‘From Afar’ has been my personal favourite for a while. For me it is Vance’s supreme achievement and the best song on the album – it’s underrated thus far. The whole arrangement is beautiful and moving with some really poignant lyrics and filmic imagery (watch the video). In some ways Vance is trying less hard with his voice, it is deeper and steadier – more remorseful in its gritted determination as if it is trying to hold everything together. Every word is perfect – I can’t write them all down but my favourite line is ‘I’ve been living on the crumbs of your love / and I’m starving now’. There is an ache in every line and every subtle change. Vance names it as an old favourite of his, that he wrote back in 2010. The outro is beautiful, a spinning majesty of gentle rhythms and soft shakers as percussion and soft background vocals (‘it shouldn’t come as a surprise / what I’m feeling, what I’m feeling now’). I can’t describe what this song makes me feel – it hooks onto your heart (‘you lined me up / across the room / two falling sparks / one willing fool / and I, I always knew / that I would love you from afar’). This is aching beauty in its purest form.
‘We All Die Trying to Get It Right’ is another highlight. The title comes from a line in the film Infamous, about Truman Capote writing In Cold Blood. It’s a poignant reflection on life and human existence - the everyday struggle (‘think you’re in control until you’re not / and you’re so in love until you’re not’). Vance taps into his upper register for most of this song, lifting into a yearning wail. The sentiment comes across beautifully.
‘Georgia’ has a much more delicate guitar part than the other songs. It is a gentle, fragile riff which Vance says he’s had since 2007 but only had a lyrical breakthrough with the song at New Year. It’s a dreamy love song – part regretful, part celebratory.
I love ‘Red Eye’s’ soaring and swelling melodies – perfectly capturing the subject it’s trying to evoke. It is definitely one of the highlights for me. When I saw Vance play it in concert last year he explained that it was partly about the flight from Perth to Melbourne – a flight which departs late at night and arrives early the next morning. It’s got themes of heartache and separation in its story about a man flying home to find out where he stands with his girlfriend. Some of its ideas come from Al Pacino in the Scent of a Woman and his ideas about dogs.
I had mixed feelings when I heard ‘First Time’ – well I didn’t particularly like it. I thought it didn’t live up to the others – mainly due to the awkwardness of the lyrics and their similarity to Cat Stevens’ ‘First Cut is the Deepest’, though it has its own meaning when you engage with it. It’s slightly more from the Ed Sheeran school of songwriting. I felt it was a little unoriginal but the more I listen to it now I notice the strong rhythm throughout and some very effective shifts of pace. It is something different to sample on the album and it is growing on me as long as I get previous associations out of my head. The story behind it is pretty cool and literary – when Vance was reading A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway a scene stuck in his mind where the character hears a story for the first time, it makes a huge impact on him, and no matter how many times he hears it afterwards it is never quite the same. I like it when I think about it in that sense – it’s just the video and some of the lyrics are tied up in the physicality and the romance of it.
Then come the final three tracks. I don’t think these are as engaging as the first half of the album but they are still lovely to listen to. ‘All I Ever Wanted’ is a wistful plea for what everyone wants – more time. Steinbeck’s The Chrysanthemums inspired ‘Best That I Can’ – which is literally about trying to do the best that you can and trying not leave things ‘half-done’ or ‘half-said’. It gets slightly repetitive towards the end but Vance’s quivering vocal packs an emotional punch. ‘My Kind of Man’, like ‘Georgia’, has a lovely soft riff and was born from his uncle’s Facebook post about being a simple kind of man (possible homage to Lynyrd Skynyrd). The final message or piece of advice is ‘find a thing that you love / find a thing you understand’ – there is an importance in small acts of individual mastery and graciousness.
I adore the literary and arty influences on this album, Vance is not afraid to borrow from those that have influenced him and I think that mostly works well. He draws inspiration from lots of thought-provoking material and clearly reads and interprets the things around him. The folk heart of this album is magical and captivating, emotionally raw and lyrically stimulating – it’s an extremely worthy debut and pure quality from a songwriter dedicated to his craft, who takes his time (years) in making melody and lyrics click. When they do, it’s an atmospheric masterpiece.