Even before the first spin, Sound Living
looks like it'd be a dark record -- there's the lonely-little-house-in-the-moonlight cover art, and the goth-o-licious black ribbon it comes tied up with -- and listening won't disabuse you of that impression. However, UK duo Drunk with Joy accomplish far more on their debut than mere gloom-peddling. Kris Jager's music is great stuff: purposefully inorganic, but as nuanced and layered as any five-piece band. He favors high drama, like the menacing synthesizer line and sudden explosive drop-ins in "Our Friends the Actors". While the songs' more obvious elements are beating you about the head, neck and shoulders, there's plenty of musical subtext to caress the devoted headphone geek's ears. During "I'm on Fire", for example, a dirty synth arpeggio takes up the top part of your attention, while distorted guitar and extra vocal tracks beef up the background; it's production like this that makes records sound full and lively.
If Jager provides the bombast, singer Mila Oshin supplies Drunk with Joy's soul. And a cold, distant soul it is... but as fascinating as the girl you never got up the nerve to talk to in high school. Her voice is world-weary, seemingly stained with the smoke of thousands of cigarettes; she emotes matter-of-factly rather than melodramatically, her lyrics obscure but almost universally somber. "Woman" is a peak of the interaction between Jager's aggressive angularity and Oshin's stern sensuality. The striding minimalist rhythm initially recalls nothing so much as Nine Inch Nails' "Closer" (though the melodies preclude any accusations of derivativeness); Oshin lays her voice over the music like brown velvet.
Drunk with Joy's music takes itself seriously to the point of pretension, but the band's gravity fits well with Sound Living's moodiness. The songs are efficiently written, but they generally rely more on dynamics than interesting hooks or changes -- which makes the disc's fifty-minute running time feel like overkill. The first half is amazing; the rest is merely impressive. Of course, "impressive" is still pretty damn good.