Simon Joyner’s work is more sprawling than that of perhaps any other songwriter working. He goes all in with his expansive, wandering folk songs and makes them work in ways both direct and impressionistic. And he devotes himself to that dreamy expanse as much as ever on Out Into the Snow.
In fact, the set-up for this loose song cycle suits Joyner’s strengths perfectly. What better way to let your songs drift than to stick them all on a drunken boat floating out to sea? That’s exactly what he does on the first track here, the nearly 10-minute hazy epic that is “The Drunken Boat.” Here a man who’s committed some crime, either stealing bread or a child, flees his captors in that boat and wanders out on the water.
It’s one of many moments on the record that denote a fresh start, albeit one that seems murky at best. And Joyner populates these foggy areas with bizarre and moody imagery. “The moon crashed in your whiskey glass, and it took out all your friends,” he sings on “Last Evening on Earth” over a thick blues-y shuffle. For that man back on the drunken boat, according to Joyner, “Memory drank the horizon.” All over the record landscape collides with personal demons in compelling and stark ways, creating a world of cold brisk winds, roads pock-marked with puddles, and constant worry.
But these people push through somehow, and sometimes in less metaphorical ways that you’d expect. Joyner’s real strength here is in marrying these huge, weighted images with notes from the everyday. In the outstanding “Sunday Morning Song for Sara,” itself coated in a whiskey-headache haze, he speaks of old things sold to pay rent, and neighbors cutting lawns in the early morning. Joyner certainly likes to wander in dream worlds, but it’s these smaller moments that drive home the small redemptions he seeks in the face of struggles real and imagined.
And the music itself backs up his themes beautifully. String sections drift in and out of these songs, filling the most untethered moments with a complete and swirling loss. “The Drunken Boat” ends with Joyner singing over just a bed of strings, the band long gone, the protagonist drifting further away from land. The middle of “The Arsonist” drops out into faint violins sounding like fledgling licks of flame. But no matter how far the music drifts, Joyner and the band always bring it back. Closer “Roll On” is a energetic barn-stomper, the sound of pushing on. Even as Joyner drifts out into that snow, he remembers to bring some warmth along with him, which is what makes Out Into the Snow the comforting mess that it is.