Unravel by The Simple Joy is an ironically complex and intricate collection of alt-country tracks with a hint of power pop to boot. They have this fascinating mix of heavy themes and a genuinely joyous production style. In other compositions, this can come across as feeling uneasy but this instead feels like a genuine celebration of life, even the bits that can be hard and unpleasant.
Lyrics from the first track Triple-Double are a great example of this “With my dying breath I know I’d just ask you to dance” has this interesting combination of confidence and vulnerability, mixing the hubris of love with the unavoidable certainty of death, as if the lead is contemplating the best and worst that life has to offer at the same time. This, to me, sums up the themes of the whole album. Instead of elevating the best bits of life or making the worst aspects more potent, the album explores the whole of life as one big messy, and terrifying adventure. These introspective lyrics are contrasted by energetic layers of vocals, creating exciting harmonies that elevate the melody built by the piano.
Another challenging track thematically is Circus In Your Head. While employing a slightly more sinister tone and instrumentation that would feel at home in the circus itself, this track is actually about a child being medicated and how that changes his behaviour. The use of melodic runs that would be used in a circus puts us in the child’s head. This is one of the darker tracks on the album but that tonal dissonance is part of the album's appeal, providing serious themes with lighthearted instrumentation.
Until is another great track, I think I appreciated this one mostly for its melody and Beach Boys inspired vocal style. The use of voices to create a wave of sound that works in unison is a nice touch and a classic pairing with the gorgeous rhythmic strumming on the guitar to create a fun and rich sound.
Everything But The Cost is a track that explores divorce, again changing the style of the album. I like the wordplay in this track describing the two partners as “indoor gladiators”, it’s a great way of exploring how combative the relationship is. There is something a little ridiculous about “indoor gladiators”, to have something so barbaric but only inside.
It seems as if the speaker is sort of aware of how absurd their relationship has become, again harkening back to this idea at the core of the album, mixing heavy serious tones with light execution.
Unravel feels like Hey Ya mixed with the style of the Beach Boys. It’s a fascinating combination that I appreciate. It doesn’t shy away from serious themes but keeps the energy high and fun throughout.