Joesef – ‘Permanent Damage’ review: soul-pop with a real, impassioned lyrical edge

The Glasgow-raised artist's debut is powered by lyrics that are unsettling, witty and thrillingly real all at once

Joesef’s voice glows bright even in his darkest moments. Arguably one of the most distinctive vocalists in contemporary British pop, the Scottish artist is capable of shifting his voice from a husky lower register to a gentle falsetto like it’s child’s play. The 27-year-old’s vocals are an invigorating force on his debut album ‘Permanent Damage’, which largely focuses on heartbreak and the restorative bliss that comes after, while also revealing more of Joesef’s emotional scars than ever before.

Growing up in Garthamlock, a suburb in Glasgow’s East End, Joesef became a local word-of-mouth sensation after he first began to share his percussive tunes in 2019, leading him to sell out the city’s esteemed King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut before he’d even released his first EP, ‘Play Me Something Nice’, later that year. As a result, Joesef’s music has long been filled with subtle odes to his community and retellings of late-night misadventures, all sung with a lightness that has made his worldview seem both chaotic and relatable.

Four years after Joesef’s initial breakthrough, he’s now showing a desire to press forward and create a new type of break-up album with ‘Permanent Damage’, which drifts through a young romantic’s mindset in flux. Often the results are beautiful: take the elegant microcosmos of tiny, constantly shifting percussion that fades in and out of ‘It’s Been A Little Heavy Lately’, or the echoey vocoder effects in the final verse of the emotionally devastating ‘Borderline’ which sound like someone catching their breath mid-sob.

Between Joesef’s lush voice and his spacious production style, it’s easy to get lost in ‘Permanent Damage’ – which, at times, consequently highlights the lack of frisson in his music. Sonically, an overriding pleasantness is too often maintained by featureless arrangements, from the mild coffee shop buzz of ‘Just Come Home With Me Tonight’ to the cosy tones of vintage soul that wrap themselves around ‘Shower’ and ‘Apartment 22’.

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But despite this laid-back atmosphere, the songwriting also focuses on our narrator being pushed to breaking point. Joesef is an astute and exquisitely raw lyricist, and the crux of his writing arrives in small details: from the heady rush of day drinking to a casual exchange of words with a new flame. ‘Blue Car’’s richly layered harmonies tell a tale of broken power dynamics, while the album’s powerful standout ‘Joe’ recalls the intensity of a teenage relationship. “I was eighteen and screaming and feeling it all,” he sings with real verve over a subtle acoustic guitar line that brings to mind the textures of The La’s’ debut.

The inner battles of ‘Permanent Damage’ are unflinching, and will likely stay with you long after the songs finish. It’s slightly deflating, then, that its instrumental flourishes often fade into the background, making for an album that takes risks without ever quite putting itself out there.

Details

joesef

  • Release date: January 13
  • Record label: AWAL

 

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