Concert preview: Joseph
I'm Alone, No You're Not, the sophomore long-player from Portland, Oregon, sister trio Joseph, lives up to its polarized title, swinging between songs like "SOS (Overboard)," where the narrator holds a paramour at arm's length ("I want you close but my arms are holding you back"), and "I Don't Mind," where the central figure tears down walls and brushes aside demons, convinced "nothing can keep us apart."
"There is a lot of push and pull and a lot of tension and a lot of dark [and] light dynamics we were working through," said Natalie Closner, who joins sisters Allison and Meegan in concert at Newport Music Hall on Thursday, Dec. 8. "These are very specific stories about what it was like to start making music together, and working through how that affects relationships and your sense of peace and your sturdiness when you're constantly moving everywhere and you're distant from your people."
It's a distance that bleeds into songs like "Planets," a sparse, pulsating number where the trio envisions itself as "a comet flying through the stars," and the lilting, hymn-like "More Alive than Dead," where the musicians attempt to find some separation from the past, singing, "Get these memories out of my head."
Sonically, the album is richer and more diverse than the trio's folksy 2014 debutNative Dreamer Kin, incorporating more grandiose, rock-oriented moments like "Canyon," which suggests early Fleetwood Mac. "We talked a lot about having a broad dynamic range," Natalie said, attributing the evolution in part to producer Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, Rilo Kiley). "My favorite part of music is the heart-stopping volume moments where everything blows through the ceiling up against those hushed, gripping moments of softness."
The trio's harmonies are still central to its sound, though they're employed in new, inventive ways. On "Honest," Meegan and Ally operate as the dueling angel and devil perched on the shoulder ("I'm alone"/"No you're not"), while "Whirlwind" finds the three attempting to recreate the titular windstorm with little more than their voices.
"That was our hallmark from the beginning, being [able to carry a song] with just three voices and a guitar, and we didn't want to compromise that for bigger production," Natalie said.
But the biggest turning point in Joseph's evolution might've arrived in a phone call Natalie shared with friend and songwriting mentor Andrew Stonestreet, who critiqued an early batch of demos as lacking in emotional connection. "He called me and said, 'Every song is you standing up above me telling me how I'm going to be OK … as this very deified thing,'" Natalie said.
Following the conversation, Natalie started reflecting on a romantic relationship that had ended that morning, wondering if it was ever possible to truly know someone.
"I was thinking, 'Can't get close enough to get close to you,' and ['Canyon'] just poured out in the car - verse, chorus, verse and it was just there," she said. "It was such a turning point in the writing process. Instead of asking, 'What do I think people want to hear?' it was, 'What do I feel in my body? What should I say about that?'"
Newport Music Hall
7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 8
1722 N. High St., Campus