Joy Zipper’s second album, American Whip, has a duality that takes some serious looking to uncover. I’d like to say it’s really satisfying once you realize there’s more than superficial summer tunes on this album, but that’s not exactly the case. That the bubbly arrangements are spiked with some relatively dark themes almost stands to ruin a great pop album, but the layer of sugarcoating is too thick to allow that to happen.
As is fairly evident from the album’s first few minutes, Joy Zipper sounds like ’70s psych and the Beach Boys filtered through Kevin Shields’s production (Shields only actually produces one track, “In the Never-Ending Search for a Suitable Enemy,” though he mixes some others). The result is the perfect dream-pop combination, and love ballads between the happy duo of Vincent Cafiso (who used to play in a My Bloody Valentine “cover” band) and Tabitha Tindale add to the uppity mood.
But most of these lyrics are not as they seem. “Dosed and Became Invisible” and “Alzheimer’s” tackle drugs and disease, but even the love songs are laced with a sense of emptiness. “Valley Stream” sounds like a perfectly sublime guitar ballad but is really about feeling stifled in the band’s Long Island hometown. “You load the gun, I’ll get the rope,” sings Cafiso, presumably with a creepy smile on his face.
This leaves American Whip with a sort of “Choose Your Own Adventure” listening style: play it with the top down only to hear the gorgeous harmonies and occasional “I love the sun!” claim, or listen closely and hear the quirks of a serious mind. Perhaps the best reference point is the title of instrumental opener “Sunstroke”: a tribute to something beautiful, but, as with drugs, the promise of being destroyed by too much of something you love.