Joy Kills Sorrow is (left to right): Wesley Corbett (banjo), Emma Beaton (vocals, cello), Bridget Kearney (bass), Jacob Jolliff (mandolin), Matthew Arcara (Guitar)
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Some people prefer pop music that behaves like math: once a few familiar variables have been determined—female vocals or male? Acoustic guitar or electric? — the end result should be easy to predict, and always sound the same. That’s not the Joy Kills Sorrow method. This Boston-based string band favors a more unpredictable approach relying on musical chemistry and improvisation. Hence the title of their sophomore album, This Unknown Science. All of the members have been touted as virtuosos, and they effortlessly hunt for unexpected outcomes and new discoveries.
On This Unknown Science, Joy Kills Sorrow’s sound is born from the best of two worlds. They start with a base of time-honored timbres and techniques, yet fashion original songs and arrangements that reflect a love of indie-rock and new folk. While the former has made Joy Kills Sorrow proven favorites with the bluegrass circuit, their emphasis on writing arrangements transcending narrow genres allows them to reach wider audiences.
Joy Kills Sorrow brings together an eclectic mix of musicians who each have classical and/or jazz conservatory training, though collectively, they ambitiously utilize their years of study to hone a new acoustic territory yet discovered by many of today’s top artists. It’s an amalgamation of lamenting music of the heartland, singular stories of heartache and laughter, beautiful string arrangements, and five musicians who grew up listening to indie-rock, jazz, and pop music that churn out impressive tunes with an incredibly contemporary sensibility.
What resonates throughout this album is that same understated approach that already serves this modern American string band so well; the individual members play their instruments with formidable, prize-winning skill, but they do so in service of melodies and lyrics that can communicate just as powerfully with a Brooklyn twenty-something as a retiree in the Blue Ridge Mountains. And while Joy Kills Sorrow makes it sound as easy as 1-2-3, this isn’t music as math; it takes chemistry, trial-and-error, and unspecified quantities of that little something extra to make a record as special as This Unknown Science.