Joe Booley – ‘TRANSFORMATIONS’ album review

Joe Booley TRANSFORMATIONS album review

 Joe Booley first came to our attention around four years ago when he supported Our Lost Infantry at the Boileroom in Guildford. Since then, Joe has become a regular figure around the Surrey and Hampshire music scene and has established the awesome label, Beth Shalom Records. Now, he’s finally releasing his debut album ‘TRANSFORMATIONS’, where he promises a sound that will fuse his love of experimentation with a more classic form of songwriting.

Clocking in at under a minute long, ‘I Would Fly’ is the short and sweet opening to the record and it finds Joe’s voice drenched in synthesizer and distortion as he sings how ‘I would fly just to tell you you are mine’ before then reaffirming and repeating ‘you are mine’ over and over again. It’s a pining song that shows how even at 20 years old, companionship and company is of the utmost importance. More traditional acoustic strums signal the start of ‘Taken Over Me’ and Joe talks about darkness overtaken him while delivering stretched vocals with quite some passion. ‘Do Right By You’ follows this up with a series of mixed metaphors (‘Birds in the sea, fish in the sky’) and a sweetly sung statement of ‘I want to do right by you’. With just the right amount of echo and reverb, there’s also something quite Conor Oberst in the way Joe observes how ‘We were born with a silver spoon’; ‘we were born into this cruel world and his cruel situation’. The song then finishes with what becomes a recurring theme on the record – a flash of post-rock style guitar work.

‘Don’t Sleep’ is longer than any song that has become before it on the album and has a romantic and wistful atmosphere that reminded us of The Antlers. There’s a slow build and delicately brushed drums as Joe asks his significant other to ‘Wake my dear, to see what today will make’. This follows requests for them to sleep and then dream. It’s full of emotion and recalls the likes of Luke Sital-Singh or Keaton Henson. There’s a more subtle plugged-in sound on ‘What Did You Expect’ but this just adds to the tension as Joe asks, with hint of bitterness ‘What did you expect to happen here? You smothered yourself in your own fear’. The sadness continues as he then goes on to talk about how ‘You tried to hide from your own family, so I told them you were lost at sea. I think they saw right through me, because I’m no great at lying you see’. There’s also a witty line in self-depreciation in the altogether janglier ‘Drive’: ‘What could I have done wrong? Was it writing this song?’

‘I Have Lost’ is darker and finds Joe exploring new sounds as he sings about how ‘I lost so much time waiting to say my last goodbye’ and then harshly demands ‘you cannot leave me just yet. I need you more than you know’. The final song ‘Rearrange’ starts in a more sombre, early Frightened Rabbit-fashion as Joe laments ‘the people I once called friends’. As soon as it hits the five-minute mark, it veers off into unexpected effects-laden territory with harmonised loops, clattering drums and an anthemic, huge guitar sound. It then settles back to finish the record in hushed style. ‘TRANSFORMATIONS’ is the work of a young singer-songwriter who is willing to push his sound into various directions, while never losing the heart of his work.

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