Nestled on the fabled Sunset Boulevard in sunny Los Angeles, a seemingly non-descript cocktail bar called Little Joy rests. To the casual observer, this bar may appear just like many other bars all over the country. However, one major difference exists between Little Joy and most local watering holes. This unassuming drinking establishment happens to have inspired the name of one of the best albums of 2008.
Little Joy’s self-titled debut album, released November 4, 2008, is the brainchild of two established artists: Fabrizio Moretti and Rodrigo Amarante, of The Strokes and Los Hermanos, respectively. Moretti has already found a great deal of success in the music industry, as The Strokes were one of the leading bands in the garage rock renaissance of the early 2000s. So widespread was The Strokes’ influence that in 2002 the Strokes’ debut album became synonymous with New York rock.
So what would cause Moretti to distance himself from his bread-winning day job and embark on a solo project? Perhaps he was inspired by some of his fellow band mates. Albert Hammond Jr. and Nikolai Fraiture, both members of The Strokes, have released financially and critically successful solo albums in the years following The Strokes’ last studio album.
The eleven-song album is a chance for Moretti to flex his musical prowess. Picking up guitar, background vocals, and occasionally even melodica duties, Moretti definitely proves he is more than a drummer. The third member of Little Joy, Binki Shapiro, has a very unique voice. All of the tracks featuring Binki on lead vocals are definitely highlights (See “Unattainable”). Her quiet, effortless style of singing is reminiscent of a bygone era of female vocalists. Amarante plays guitar and is the lead singer. At times his singing is eerily similar to The Strokes’ frontman Julian Casablancas, but the tone and sound of these songs is so different than that of The Strokes that the similarity is a positive, not a cheap knockoff. The trio has mastered a folksy, surf-rock, melodic pop formula that absolutely works for them.
While the entire album is solid, a few tracks about three quarters of the way through are a bit slow. The songs are mostly all short. Only three eclipse the three-minute mark. However, the weak points of this album are still far superior than the vast majority of music played on the FM stations today.
The entire album is very laid back. This is perfect chill-out music. In fact, whenever one thinks of Amarante and Moretti spending time together in (the bar) Little Joy discussing grand ambitions of a new band, it is difficult to imagine any other kind of music playing the soundtrack to the scene. They have embodied an entire frame of mind with their album. Now that The Strokes are recording and an album and subsequent tour are on the not-too-distant horizon, it may be some time before the Little Joy triumvirate will be able to record a follow up. Until then, fans of easy listening, non-abrasive wistful pop can enjoy this album again and again.