Joy Electric - Hello, Mannequin (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Joy Electric

Hello, Mannequin (2004)

Tooth and Nail

How did I not hear of this before? When I was at my most synth-crazed, about four years ago, I purchased a Roland Juno 60 and searched out any bands with synthesizers I could find, trying to emulate their sounds on my new programmable beast. It was at this time I fell in love with The Rentals, Atom and His Package, The Hippos (Heads Will Roll especially, of course) and the wonderful novelty of The Moog Cookbook. But I never discovered Joy Electric, who have apparently been around since 1994.

Like Atom, this is actually just one guy, Ronnie Martin, a Californian formerly of Rainbow Rider and Dance House Children, and currently also in Shepherd. Like Matt Sharp from the Rentals, this guy loves old analog synths. While he doesn't have the famous Moog name synths, he does have some great old equipment: a Roland System 100, a monophonic monster from the late seventies; a Roland CR-78, an analog rhythm machine from 1979 that produces wonderful unrealistic vintage drum sounds; and an RE 201 Space Echo, from 1973, which produces analog echo effects by recording signals on tape and replaying them before being erased. And boy does this guy know how to use his equipment. The guys from Moog Cookbook would definitely tip their space helmets to him, because he coaxes many great sounds from the System 100, blowing amateurs like James Dewees out of the water.

Unlike Atom, Joy Electric is not as light and fun; the music tends to sound more like The Faint, with their darker edge, instantly recognizable in the second track "Disloyalist Party". As for the lyrics, while I've read that they are apparently religious (this is Tooth and Nail, after all) they could really apply to anyone questioning the world and their own life, because it never explicitly mentions god.

The previously mentioned song "Disloyalist Party" would rank among my favorite tracks, perhaps due to it impressing me early on in the album, along with its driving techno beat, haunting synth lines and whispered "ah-ah-ahs". "From Mount Chorus" and "The Singing Arc" would be two other favorites, and they share the element of being upbeat and in a major key. Martin seems to be better at writing major melodies, and those songs stick out. The later also has a killer lead line in the middle, rivaling complicated lines from bands like Adventures of Jet.

I might have become hooked on this band/guy back in the day due to the synths, but my obsession is a little more controlled now so I noticed the downsides of this release. First is the length. The album nears an hour in length, 14 songs that all land around the 4-minute mark, a bit much for songs that keep a similar beat/tempo throughout. Even though Martin is quite good at switching up synths sounds and drum beats track to track, even a synth junkie like myself grew tired of the sound by track 10. If there were perhaps some interaction with other musicians and real instruments it could mix things up enough, but that would ruin the analog purity of the album. Another downside, stemming from the same aspects, is that the songs seem to run together in my mind after listening. This may also be due in part to the melodies, which could be stronger or more memorable.

I was pleasantly surprised by this release. It was also nice to hear a true analog enthusiast working the knobs amidst all the bands exploiting the trendy synth sound these days. While Hello, Mannequin is no perfect album, if you are a fan of any of the above-mentioned bands, you will want to check this out.