Australian singer-songwriter Vance Joy is back after four years with his third project, In Our Own Sweet Time, but truthfully, not much has changed – if you’ve heard one of his songs before, you likely know what this album is going to sound like, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Recruiting a list of some of the most consistent pop hitmakers in the business, including fellow Oceanian Joel Little and hip-hop duo Take A Daytrip, who tone down their sound significantly here, Joy’s latest set of 12 tracks is more of his typical competent if uninspiring lovestruck indie-pop melodies. You’ll be certain to be humming at least one of these tracks well into next week. There’s a certain kind of X-factor to his elastic falsetto that connected so many people to a song like “Riptide,” and while there’s nothing that falls anywhere outside the range of predictability on this project, there’s not really anything bad either.
If any track on this project feels slightly different to Joy’s past work, it’s the opener. “Don’t Fade” finds him pushing his voice to a place that’s a bit grittier, finding a tone that’s a little reminiscent of Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds’ regular voice – before the belted choruses. Singing about finding The One, a theme that continues throughout, over shuffling percussion and an acoustic loop in the background, it doesn’t capture the energy that an opener should as the instrumental remains stagnant. A trumpet section, the last-chorus pick-me-up of choice that appears similarly on a couple of tracks here, bubbles up at the end but a little too late.
Speaking of Reynolds, however, quite a few tracks on this project feel almost like a better version of his band, utilizing indie-pop and pop-rock formulae down to a science. You can see every technique on a track like “Solid Ground” coming from a mile away, but I wouldn’t judge anyone for submitting to them. Adding in the low end in a brief pre-chorus, building up to the single crash indicating the refrain, as Joy’s undulating melody hits the top and the bottom of the classic chord progression, all while the lyrics are built around an extended metaphor that makes it feel like the title was selected before any music was written. “Missing Piece” takes it even further, as Joel Little starts working his undeniable magic. With some gospel-style harmonies, a muted staccato acoustic progression and some massive percussion hits, the conviction with which Joy leans into his lyrics about the elation of coming together with a partner after a pandemic forced them apart draws you in.
Continuing to showcase just how little has truly changed, your enjoyment of the track “Catalonia” is likely going to come down to just how many of your friends pulled out a ukulele at the beach to sing “Riptide” over the years. Personally, I’ve heard it enough for Joy’s voice overtop of a ukulele to give me a visceral, skin-crawling reaction, although the addition of the trumpet hook adds enough of something new to partially override my biases. “Every Side of You” closes out the album’s first half and already feels like a tiresome retread of earlier tracks without as much of a standout melody, but “Way That I’m Going” sees Joy finding that magic again. One of the slower tracks with an understated but touching melody and some of the most genuinely adorable lyrical content, Joy runs through a list of the all-encompassing things his partner represents. His voice, however, is what will keep you coming back – it’s hard to pin down what’s so special about it, but here it feels like he’s so in awe of his situation that he’s on the verge of faltering, just hitting the baseline minimum of vocal strength to sound decisive and confident about his realizations.
The track “Clarity” almost feels representative of Joy’s work as a whole. For the most part, it’s both one of the blandest and cheesiest songs on the whole project, bringing back the trumpets in the same way as they did a couple tracks ago – right before they do it again on “Boardwalk” two tracks later – and the central melody of the chorus has the syllables lining up in a way that feels, at first, incredibly unnatural and awkward. But by the end of the track, those syllables become the best thing about it simply because Joy commits so hard. The aforementioned “Boardwalk” and “Looking At Me Like That” are some of the final standouts on the album, not particularly for any new musical reasons, but each are carried by a stronger melody and some more fleshed-out, interesting subject matter. The former finds Joy seeking quiet, peaceful moments together away from it all, while the latter sees him hoping that being so incredibly devoted to the relationship isn’t too much for his partner to handle. Tracks like “Wavelength” and “This One” fade entirely into the background – “This One” especially feels oddly like obvious filler after how long he’s been away, a repetitive track that finds him describing every step of a rather mundane situation as they discuss where to go next on an early date. The project ends with “Daylight,” which brings some piano into the mix for a nice initial surprise but mostly just falls back into exactly what we’ve been hearing from him for 11 other tracks.
Joy is one of those artists where throwing on one of his songs in any type of situation won’t get any reactions, positive or negative – it’s simply competent enough to be pleasant soundtracking. While he does touch on the odd standout once or twice with each release, seeing essentially no progression in all the time he’s been away does feel a little odd. Still, if you’re in the right mood, there’s no telling which of these tracks might hit.
Favourite Tracks: Way That I’m Going, Looking At Me Like That, Missing Piece, Boardwalk
Least Favourite Track: Every Side Of You