Joemca arrives with an intriguing pedigree. A classically trained pianist and violinist, he’s composed and performed scores for a wide swath of highbrow conceptual outfits, including a contemporized ancient Chinese Opera, experimental puppet shows based on such works as Nicolai Gugol’s classic short story “The Nose” and short compositions inspired by Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami.
With such seemingly experimental music in his past, Joemca’s self-titled debut EP is unexpectedly hackneyed. Reminiscent of so many electronica-inflused indie-rock popsters who are still marching loyally to Radiohead’s beat, Joemca’s single-lyric chanted choruses and melodic vocal inflections can’t shed the Yorke. The album’s lyrics often sound as though they’ve been clumsily translated from another language. He writes with folky nature observations — “I will fall on the autumn wind” and “there’s nothing to stop the sunset” — and lazier metaphors. “Driving through traffic, and staring into headlights/ I’m looking for patterns, shifting to open up the street,” he moans in “The Best Circumstances and the Worst Situations,” “And just when I try to reach you, you still slam your door shut.”
Musically, Joemca often appears purposefully simplistic and sentimental, over-calibrated to avoid sounding stiffly classical or abstractly experimental. He favors multi-layered melodic straightforwardness over unpredictability, and the album’s memorable or inventive themes can be counted with pinkies. The beats similarly fail to grab, attempting to mesmerize through leisurely and monotonous rhythms occasionally inserting jarring breaks.
With computers putting electronic beats at the fingertips of any self-respecting bedroom songwriter, perhaps artists are necessarily drawn to ape the masters of the sound. But in consideration of Joemca’s eclectic interests and personal background, it’s a bit frustrating to hear music so blatantly derivative of past masters and distinguishable mainly for its inseparability from so many other electro-indie acolytes. Given his experience as a composer, let’s hope it was just that this EP was released too soon and that his conventional songwriting talents are far from fully formed.