Each song on Grace Joyner’s new album, Settle In, is like a different page in a diary thrown open upon the table, each a story about her told in lyrics and the hazy, dream-pop party her music invites you to join artfully embraces the inner cinema of those words. The second full-length album from the Charleston/ Asheville chanteuse has her holding headlong in her style of laid back pop jams but with more focused and up front instrumentation, from a strong pool of talented musicians lending their talents. Think somewhere between the Atari-induced fever dreams of the music from Stranger Things and the hallucinatory road house moments from Twin Peaks and you are in the middle of a Grace Joyner record, rolling in a slow motion car ride on a Summer day with the windows rolled down.
Album opener “Hung the Moon” is a perfect primer for Joyner’s style; hi-fi lo-fi, using a state-of-the-art post-cabaret feel with intelligent lyrics that resonate. “Everybody Loves You” is a dip into that aformentioned Twin Peaks world, with late ’80s style synths powering the singer’s assertions that “I am not guided by your varying ideas of my worth” and “”at least i have seen love”. “Fake Girlfriend” starts with great funky bass and the admission “I wrote a tune the other day/You probably think it sounds the same” but the strong playing and lyrical imagery keeps the music focused on a goalpost past superficial danceability. With its strong Sade vibe, this slow-burner features some rare guitar on one of her recordings and count me in for that choice. “Gold” features Camille Rhoden on keys for a trip down a soulful side road, catchy and often trying to be my other favorite tune on Settle In. “Pretty People” asks the question many will not want to answer: “In the morning when you wake/ What’s on your mind/ does it ache?” while Joyner leads a jam that has early ’80s synth and prog rock married to full pop effect. “Love is a Bitch” might be the most lyrically polarizing one here, but I love its lounging-on-a-slow-moving-carousel vibe. The album takes its title from a line inside “What a Shame” and even though it was written well before our current quarantine situation, the lyrics can be construed to mirror lots of disaster scenarios. The appropriately named “Haze” has a wonderful ’80s pop sensibility and the sing-song style marks a change in her delivery. The thumping intro to “Million Dollar Wound” leads into a tale about her two great-grandfathers, featuring secondary vocals from her mother, Julie Joyner. “Brother” is a slow and low tribute to the singer’s sibling and the closer, the sprawling “Half the Time” takes dips into post punk and indie folk and is an awesome indicator of where Joyner might be heading down the road.
I make no bones about being a fan of Joyner’s lyrics; often weighty and pointed at others in her life but imbued with honest self-criticism, the listener can see themselves and others in them and that can be a true goal for any artist. To open up the inner life of someone by sharing your own is a hard trick to pull off and we are lucky to have Grace Joyner offering us this chance, especially when the world is so messed up right now. I love it when South Carolina artists make one of my favorite albums of the year and this isn’t the first time Grace has found her way there. You can find Settle In on all streaming platforms or even go purchase a download or CD at Bandcamp.
Sean Knight is a native South Carolinian who has spent his life bouncing back and forth between SC and Texas, playing in bands you probably never heard of in both states and stinking up open-mic nights in the Low Country for many years. He plays, collects, listens to and probably spends too much of his life obsessing over music.