Lansing, Michigan-based indie rock outfit Harborcoat recently released their sophomore album, Joy Is Elusive.
Explaining the album’s title, singer-songwriter/guitarist Matthew Carlson shares, “Not that joy doesn’t happen, or that we can’t find a lot of joy in life and work, but it seems it can be difficult to find these moments and hard work to sustain them. I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety all my life and it has always crept into my songwriting as a sort of veiled subtext. With this new batch of songs, I made a conscious effort to write about it more directly. They aren’t mopey or deliberately maudlin, but I think during these times people are feeling a lot of anxiety, depression, and they have been grappling with isolation. These topics are part of the human condition.”
Along with Harborcoat, Matthew writes and sings in the power pop band The Stick Arounds and is the proprietor and operator of Phonophore Records. Harborcoat took shape in 2016 and began as a bedroom project for Matthew’s songs not right for The Stick Arounds. A friend suggested he make a real record, which led to Harborcoat becoming a tangible band made up of an ever-evolving cast of musicians.
In 2017, Harborcoat released “See The Sun,” followed by dropping a full-length album, Brutal Gravity, in 2019. The band’s name—Harborcoat—comes from a R.E.M. song, while the band’s sound is eclectic, echoing hints of Teenage Fanclub, Billy Bragg, and ‘80s Brit-pop.
Talking about the songs on the album, Matthew says, “I wanted there to be a sense of joy and excitement even though the lyrical themes are often terribly dark. There was a direct effort to play to that old maxim of ‘beautiful melodies telling me terrible things.”
He goes on, adding, “On this record, I wanted to write more intently about all of our unseen struggles and the baggage we travel with each day. There is a greater thread lyrically and musically rooted within the themes of the album and the fictional town in which they occur. As much as I cringe at the idea of a concept record, this is a record with a pretty clearly defined concept.”
Tracked at Matthew’s family cabin, just before recording began, his father passed away. Ready to postpone, family and friends persuaded him to go ahead.
Matthew says, “That week of recording was the first time in four weeks that I had managed to find any degree of happiness or hope. It was cathartic, it was beautiful, and it was the perfect distraction.”
Encompassing 12-tracks, entry points include “Always Better,” traveling on jangly guitars topped by Matthew’s evocative voice and shimmering oooh-oooh vocal harmonies. “Transit Town” pumps out layers of Brit-pop colors, along with traces reminiscent of R.E.M. Resounding guitars and plush harmonies give the tune posh power-pop flavors.
The title track rolls out on a fat bassline and sparkling piano as Matthew’s voice delivers longing textures amid gently gleaming surfaces. A personal favorite, “Help Me Out Somehow,” rides a tasty, driving rhythm capped by Matthew’s Tom Petty-like tones and glowing harmonies.
Another gem, “Things I Should Have Done,” features platinum-hued jangly guitars exuding glistening pop savors, while creamy harmonies infuse the tune with luscious waves of radiant timbres.
Joy Is Elusive brims with retro tangs and luminous jangly guitars resulting in music simultaneously dazzlingly good and infectiously alluring.