Deaf Joe’s second album sees the songwriter breathe new, electronic life into his brand of hushed folk. His debut demonstrated a keen lyricism – album closer ‘Joanna’ most likely haunted and embedded itself to the memory of every listener – but here his background in sound design for theatre and contemporary arts forms the foundation of the albums spectral home.
While artists like James Vincent McMorrow have evolved their sound through the addition of electronic elements while retaining enough of their original style to leave them easily discernable, Deaf Joe has twisted the intimate style of his debut into a wholly different shape – his introspective nature is more pronounced this time but it has been let loose on a vaster plane. Recorded during a bout of weather-imposed isolation in Sligo during the winter of 2010, the artist himself sees the songs as an abstract of his headspace of the time, saying “The whole thing ends up sounding like a waking dream, a hallucination. Because I had no one to spend time with each day, I was left to drift unmoored in my own head.”
Passing his guitar, piano and voice through various digital wringers he has created an album that is alive with a sense of space. The drizzle of digital static on ‘The Warmest of Hearts’ is typical of how his sound has become encased in the digital and although tinged with feedback, his voice retains the sincerity he fashioned on his first outing. Many of the tracks wander through segues of ambient noise, coming across akin to a lo-fi Sigur Rós but recalling – closer to home – Dublin’s 8 Ball. At times the tracks don’t provide enough momentum to merit their inclusion – namely ‘For the Skulls and the Bones’ – but even these find their place within the album as a whole, bridging gaps in the meandering tour of his psyche.
As the title tracks piano climbs to a plateau, accompanied by his own harmony and languid drum loop, it proves his strongest release to date. Confident but heartfelt, it feels like the dream the album is commenting on – there are elements of the blues he began with peeking through once the layers of sound peel away in the bridges but the ambient soundscapes he has become enamored with quickly return. His folk heritage surfaces again under the darkness of ‘The Sticks and Stones’ with its black and blue(s) vocals recanting “Just attracting opposites” to a repeating set of rimshots and spaced out synth.
From the Heights of a Dream is an album that runs the risk of throwing many of Deaf Joe’s original fanbase out into the cold – so stark is its comparison to Burrowings – but it will more likely win him acclaim from other corners due to that contrast. It’s music tailored to headphones and the rain-streaked windows of a long haul journey as much as the vaulted ceiling of a theatre – brave in the grand scope of its enclosed space.