Easy, varied, multifaceted: These are three terms that, perhaps to the band's pride, could never be applied to Australian trio My Disco's third album, Little Joy. It's maddeningly minimal at times, with certain songs acting as the musical equivalent of semantic satiation, the mental phenomenon in which you repeat a word so many times that it completely loses its meaning and ends up sounding like clusters of weird, random noise. However, in their pursuit of shaving off unnecessary fluff and flair (and in many cases, instantly memorable riffs), My Disco have managed to piece together a compelling post-punk album that traverses a long, coherent arc. It succeeds for those who commit to it, but could easily turn away just as many listeners with its unshaking aesthetic dedication.
Lead-off track "Closer" and its nine-minute follow-up "Young" might go down as the biggest stumbling block for new listeners, as Ben Andrews hammers on biting, single note guitar parts for most of their running times. As each track progresses, and the guitar parts are repeated, they truly begin to sound like different beasts altogether. On the latter track, it even begins to get difficult to tell where the beat is anymore, but this ends up seeming like a sly nod to the intensely rhythmic middle section of the album, which contains the sinisterly grooving "Sunbear" and the glowing chords and unexpected grit of "Sunray," which offers one of the album's most explicit moments of beauty. The restrained pair of "Lil' Joy" and "With Age" ratchet up the tension for penultimate track "Rivers," which finds bassist/vocalist Liam Andrews solemnly intoning "There are others just like me" while Ben Andrews unleashes torrents of tinny, restless guitar noise with a few chords sprinkled in.
Recorded by Steve Albini in Chicago and mixed by Scott Horscroft in Australia, Little Joy is just as much a victory of recording techniques as it is in reviving some of the best elements of classic post-punk in a world where that term's meaning has been warped and redefined so many times. Ben Andrew's guitar may sound brittle and uncompromising, but it was obviously recorded in a room that allows it to shimmer as well. Rohan Reberio's drums in particular are immaculately put to tape, each one maintaining its own melodic voice and volume. Liam Andrews voice is kissed with just the lightest touch of reverb, adding gravity to his proclamatory style of singing loosely connected statements rather than coherent stories or verses.
Little Joy never really breaks out of its mostly grey color scheme, and is an album that could test the patience of many, but these do not seem like things that concern My Disco in the slightest. Their single-mindedness is something to be admired, as it allows them to produce works like this that make no concessions, that offer an actual challenge to listeners as opposed to spoon-feeding them blog-ready nuggets. It's an old-fashioned approach that now, three albums in, has worked once again.
Seems nearly everyone familiar with Big Black was thrown off by My Disco. The Australian trio reportedly took its name from a Big Black song, yet consistently shied away from the harsh histrionics of Steve Albini's '80s-era group. Getting past that point was relatively easy because the band shared more subtle qualities, specifically a deliberate minimalism to its arrangements. I believe they called it "post-rock." The group's third album was called Little Joy and true to its title worked with a somber pallet of grays and ambiguity.