Little Joy Little Joy

[Rough Trade; 2008]

Styles: lounge soul, coastal rock
Others: Los Hermanos, The Strokes

You want to wake up with Fabrizio Moretti. Gently coaxing open your eyes to the sun peeking around the curtains, The Strokes’ drummer’s side project Little Joy is considerately hushed. Here, Fab and singer Rodrigo Amarante (of Rio De Janeiro’s Los Hermanos) affect the heavy hearts of coastal lounge singers yet retain the resilience of city kids who can’t be beat. Although backup singer Binki Shaprio is too feathery to really make an impact, the sum of Little Joy’s sincere regret and wide-eyed optimism lend a bedroom intimacy to the group’s debut.

Judging from Albert Hammond Jr. and Little Joy’s releases, you’d think every NYC rocker wanted to duck out to Santa Cruz with an acoustic guitar. But while The Strokes’ albums have seemed to retread the same old battered sidewalks, their expats Al and Fab have found fresh sounds with their toes buried in the sand.

Opening the album with a plucky ukulele shamble, Little Joy are light on their feet. Though “The Next Time Around” doesn’t venture far from the safety of the Copacabana, the motif is soothing and relatively untapped. Insisting “Ain’t no lover like the one I got,” Rodrigo invokes Sam Cooke soul progressions as he waltzes down the boardwalk. Lead single “No One’s Better Sake” putters giddily out of the garage like a crisply painted jalopy, as Amarante croons, “I can’t defend you truly/ When I’m worried about smoke instead of putting out the fire.” With the camel’s back broken, he rides cheeky organ gusto to greener pastures as his old lady is left in the dust.

Little Joy sound just as candid weathering the rainy days, as a heartbroken-down 1940s radio groans “I bet you’re wondering how I knew/ That this would come to and end,” on “With Strangers.” Distant lighthouse beacon guitars sorrowfully scan the horizon, but there’s no sign of Rodrigo’s lost love. The album is not without its missteps and mood music, though. The slightly more aggressive and angular guitars of Room On Fire-esque “Keep Me In Mind” don’t quite mesh with the running aesthetic, and “How To Hang A Warhol”’s jokey subject matter and muddy chords disrupt the earnest report the album had been building.

To close the album, however, Rodrigo Amarante contributes his wilted masterpiece, “Evaporar,” a Portuguese ballad for those close to love but far from home. Plucked on a backpacker’s guitar, whether it wafts from a balcony in Paris or Lisbon it is a contented sigh accompaniment to the drifting clouds. The song’s soft caress rounds out Little Joy, transfixing yet relaxing, relentlessly pleasant.

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