After rising to the top of the charts with his 2014 debut album “Dream Your Life Away,” already stealing the attention of fellow songwriter Taylor Swift during her ‘1989’ World Tour, Vance Joy — aka James Keogh — quickly became the talk of the town within mainstream pop music. While his breezy single “Riptide” might have put him on the map, the rest of the album also held wondrous potential for the musician. With songs like “Georgia,” “Who Am I” and “Mess Is Mine” still reeling in my brain every time I think of Joy, his vibrant, folky debut remained a unique new sound full of its musician’s own soul. A similar soul can be found in Joy’s sophomore record “Nation of Two” (out Feb. 23), where the Australian pulls off much of the same sun-drenched and melancholy feelings, but now with an ambitious narrative tethered to it.
The cover art for the album alone could easily clue us into the central idea at the heart of Joy’s second record, with it being described as “a perfectly self-contained couple,” one that shares their love with one another and gives meaning to each other’s lives. This subtle meshing of two bodies into one outlines the album, with singles like “Lay It On Me,” “Take Your Time” and “We’re Going Home” painting a sensitive journey through love. While some tracks feel more assured in their journey, some, like “Saturday Sun,” contemplate the state of the couple’s budding relationship. All through smooth, endearing vocals by Joy, the artist’s gentle nuance makes this a timely journey to embark on.
Just as we saw in his debut, Vance Joy always seems to find solace in the middle ground between fast-moving, sing-along pop and his own mild-mannered folk inklings. While he might sometimes fall victim to delivering quick, foot-tapping radio hits, it’s always a pleasure to see him dive a little deeper into his roots as a folk artist. Akin to the likes of Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers, with similar acoustic curiosity and vocal range, Joy takes liberties with his overly-pop musings, but never lets that sound overwhelm him. Just as his debut had soft, ukulele-led songs like “From Afar,” “Nation of Two” holds plenty of Joy’s more honest and contemplative ideas.
While his debut might have introduced me to a promising artist that blurred the line between earthy guitar strums and dynamic pop tropes, Vance Joy explored somewhat similar territory with “Nation of Two,” all while giving off a great sense of ambition as to where he might go next. While he still might deliver effective alt-rock anthems for the radio, I hope to see him go even further with how his soft-spoken lyricism could lead to something totally unexpected.
Vance Joy’s second studio album “Nation of Two” is now available to stream online and buy in stores. The album includes singles “Lay It On Me,” “Like Gold” and “We’re Going Home.”