Band of Holy Joy - Neon Primitives - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Band of Holy Joy - Neon Primitives

by Simon H Rating:9 Release Date:2019-06-07
Band of Holy Joy - Neon Primitives
Band of Holy Joy - Neon Primitives

If Holy Joy were a business, (as if!) above the door it would proudly state, ‘Band of Holy Joy: Purveyors of Nourishment for the Soul Since 1983’. In fact, in a recent interview Johny Brown did a good job of describing the BoHJ reason for being when he described music in the wider sense as, ‘a beautiful tool to help us through the mundane, difficult, messed up days of no-tomorrow and better still, a series of signs to see us through the dark and lonely times, for articulating feelings, for realisation, for finding yourself...’

Listening to Neon Primitives I’m pleased to say it will help you in all those ways and more.

One of BoHJ’s various strengths is that they inhabit a world most of us can probably recognise in all its beauty and mundane terror. Throughout Johny himself never seems lost in his own artistry. All of this adds up to songs with a high level of impact, immediacy and power. There’s certainly no hanging around here as we leap straight into the pounding, jagged anxiety of Lost in the Night, a quick stop for Johnny’s crooning reminder that our situation is uncertain and then back in again, taught guitars articulating clenched fear, all over in less that 1 minute 40 seconds.

But it’s Ok because we’re now ready and primed for, yes I’m going to say it, possibly one of the greatest BoHJ songs ever, just maybe anyway. I know, I’m hedging my bets but come on, it’s quite a canon.

Fully utilising the banal horror of corporate jargon-speak, Johny’s intro makes the phrase, ‘branded content providers‘ drip with cold hideous menace. Perhaps its one of the aims of such oblique business doublespeak to distance people from their acts in a society that sets person against person just so they can get by. Johny skewers the moral bankruptcy of a country that presents Universal Credit as an ‘innovation’ and teaches its people to look the other way while it wreaks havoc on the lives of their fellow citizens. Whole worlds of pain and meaning lie behind these words. Truly, the devil does have a hold on the land, just look around you. As we’re reminded, ‘we are reasonably well adjusted to a profoundly sick society now’.

Mocking backing vocals (‘in your face!’) remind us we’re all complicit, jagged, dark guitars skitter and chase the song to it’s conclusion and we’re left wondering where things will develop from here.

And on we go: from a brutal show stopper to the balm of So Sad, a Vincent Gallo cover. Here we address simply, the issue which troubles us all at one time or another, namely, why do we feel so sad? In the face of the surrounding injustice it may seem an indulgence, but this is the fundamental human condition we’re talking about here, so there’s no shame or judgment and it provides a lovely place to gather your senses for a couple of minutes.

Did I mention there’s a bit of the beauty and purity of early Orange Juice in the air? Faintly but unmistakably present in the intro and central riff of the gorgeous Ecstacy Snowbirds. Impressively the second song I’ve heard this year to talk of a murmuration. A lyric that brushes up against the realisation that one of the things we’ve lost in our brave new world is the beauty and power of solitude, as opposed to a loneliness within the all-enveloping chatter of modern connectivity.

Then, as a bridge to side 2, a return to elements of opener Lost in the Night. Calumniators is a timely warning to our current surfeit of people for whom the truth is a toy to be twisted, manipulated and transformed Into ugly dangerous shapes.

Some People Have Winged Fortune sees Johny striding the streets with thoughtful optimism amid echoes of the Holy Joy of many years ago, a Go-Betweens recalling guitar solo serenades him before a gentle close heralds the arrival of the Urban Pilgrims. The darkness we face is acknowledged here amidst a world we can again ruefully recognise only too well, full of the conformingly ugly. The blind are leading the blind once more, but we can still turn and embrace the light.

But by now we’re already meeting the Electric Pilgrims, a battered, bittersweet trudge towards an ever-receding horizon, with only the assurance that, ‘we’re almost there‘ and that the spell CAN be broken to keep you going. Hints of first album Smiths bathe the weary climax in the kind of warmth you feel on a sunny day in early spring.

This isn’t a time to linger, as now We’re Sailing to the Island of Light, already sounding like an epic Holy Joy set closer, feeling nightmarish and fed by the horror of dopamine feedback loops controlling and shaping our behaviour. Gears shift towards the end, speed picking up briefly until we’re delivered dazed and confused but strangely elated, in our own elegiac future.

There will be some who come to this album expecting a lovable, slightly shambolic BoHJ but this version has a beautiful power and can turn on a dime (or coinage of your choice) feint, parry and deliver killer punches wherever needed. They’ve created a ‘state of the nation’ record without any of the bombast and pomposity that implies, one that doesn’t neglect our own ever turbulent long day’s journeys into night.

Oh, and who are these Neon Primitives? Back to Johnny, ‘those still in love with the light, who joyfully acknowledge the darkness of the current time, but see the art and beauty in the detritus and waste surrounding us and want to make something out of it.’ Also; ‘ a very conventional beat group plying a lost and lonely trade.’ He’s too modest.


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