Spanish Love Songs - No Joy (Cover Artwork)

Spanish Love Songs

No Joy (2023)

Pure Noise Records

Spanish Love Songs are arguably a cult band. I’m not sure why it feels crazy to say that, but if I consider their relatively modest monthly Spotify listener stats (137k at time of writing) and the fact that I’ll be seeing them support Hot Mulligan in London in the coming month, that clarifies the fact they are not a band with miss appeal (as of yet). However, those that are ‘in the know’ are, almost without exception, borderline rabid in their support and fandom of the band. The fact that their first three records (Giant Sings The Blues, Schmaltz and Brave Faces Everyone) came in a snappy 5-year period between 2015 and 2020 must seem barely plausible for fans who have hung on their every note and lyric since day one. And within the 137k or so mentioned above, there are plenty who do.

It may be that it’s not just the hardcore fans who recognise the hard yards we’ve all done in the last 5 years or so. I say this relative to No Joy opening with “Lifers”. Maybe as much as ever before, SLS lean into the brighter end of their musical palette, juxtaposed with incredibly dark lyrical content. Without wanting to spoil anything, there are tales abound of car wrecks, broken bones, seeking insincere assurances and more besides. And this is the album opener. So in case you thought the album title was going to be some sort of ironic allusion to a turning over of a new leaf, of fundamentally sunnier outlook, then I would put those thoughts to one side. Lyrics such as ‘Think about dying but it sounds too lonely’ or ‘And you’re not sure why, when you leave the house, you circle the block to cry’ will chime all too clearly with a certain breed or generation of listener. And this is maybe where Spanish Love Songs, and especially in the case of No Joy, succeed so completely.

Dylan Slocum’s affection for wry observations on the difficult or negative aspects of one’s life, are to my mind the defining characteristic of SLS’s music. That’s not to say the musical tapestry is not up to meeting the challenge of Dylan’s magnetic yet neurotic presence; far from it. The band have a knack for adding textures to the songs that I’m not sure many would think to apply. Whereas Dylan’s sardonic analysis of his own psyche could, I suppose, make it difficult for those of a cheerier or more ‘stiff-upper-lipped’ disposition to engage with the songs, it is frankly unthinkable that they could get past the myriad melodic hooks that the record delivers. Making them all the more hard to resist, is the prevalent use of keys/electronics in No Joy. This is twinned with a marked reduction in electric guitar (or certainly of a more typical nature) in favour of acoustic or mellifluously altered approaches. There are also backing and doubled vocals at various points, resulting in a warm, more bass-heavy overall sonic feel at the zenith of the songs and a more intimate environment afforded to the quieter moments. It is at these points when the messages are often more subtle or poignant and to SLS’s credit, they are allowed the time and space for them to land, complete with undercurrent and nuance, as intended. “Exit Bags” is a perfect example of this, yet with processed beats, a low thrum of bass, hypnotic guitars and an undulating electronic soundscape this is nothing like the traditional ‘back end of the album acoustic ballad’. It’s something altogether more authentic and stirring.

Ultimately, this record is a masterclass in emotive storytelling. That and the band’s extraordinary ability to find, time and time again, a new way to hit the mark for ‘bittersweet’. For world-weary capitulation. For the most uplifting way of accurately portraying the specific strain of defeat that Dylan is musing on. ‘It’ll be this bleak forever, but it is a way to live’ reprises the lyrical motif from Brave Faces Everyone that all who know the record remember all too well, in which the suggestion was that things in fact would not be this bleak forever. It seems that the ‘new normal’ (which was the buzz phrase around the release of the last record), has turned out to be little more than a bitterly disappointing recalibration of what we can expect from our lives. But there is hope. And it’s in these songs. It lives in the relationships we have. The world might have gone to shit and may well not be coming back. But there is the ever-present worth and profundity in the exchanges we have and the way that we can face into the world’s bullshit with a smirk, so long as we have people who understand us with us. And in most cases they’ll have some of the same broken parts we do, lest we forget. So they’ll need us too.

If someone had said to me six months ago that Spanish Love Songs’ follow-up to Brave Faces Everyonewould be more akin to The War On Drugs than The Menzingers and that there would be AOR influences across the entire record, then I’d have been disappointed. But this record is absolutely what I needed to hear. Not for the first time, I need to bow my head to SLS’ artistry. Not to mention consistency. You’d struggle to find anyone familiar with their discography who would say that they were anything other than four for four at this stage. Over a period of eight years. We need to start talking about Spanish Love Songs in the capacity they deserve. That of one of the great modern alternative bands. I’m not even going to narrow it down any further than that, because it’s simply not necessary. It might not bring joy per se, but this record brings me a sense of solace, understanding, unity and yes, even cheer. Because when I sing these songs back at the band or my speakers or my headphones, I’m damn sure I won’t be alone. Literally or metaphorically.