Click to hear: “Frank Black Soundtrack”
A Severe Joy is an anagram of José Ayerve, former frontman of the indie-rock band Spouse. For this solo project, Ayerve has shed Spouse’s guitar-powered pop for electro dance music. He’s also adopted a sexed-up stage persona complete with a mask that looks like something Batman would wear to the orgy scene in Eyes Wide Shut. Performing these songs live, Ayerve sings and does moves to the backing tracks. I hear it’s really something to see.
The album begins with four overtly lusty tracks in a row. “I want to feel the heat of your skin against my tongue,” Ayerve coos on the slow-burning opener, “I Need You Close.” “Coming together is like falling apart on ourselves,” begins the next. “Get on your knees / Gimmie some of that and make it wetter,” starts the third, the Princely “My Love 4 $ale.” “Does he sweep you off your feet? Do you land on the bed? Does he use his eyes to undress you?” Ayerve asks on “Catapult.”
Then he drops “Here Lies Our Pulse,” a devastating ballad about a dead loved one that could double as a prom slow-dancer if you ignore the words. But on the following song, “Frank Black Soundtrack,” Ayerve’s aping the enunciation of the titular Pixie, playfully declaring, “I wanna sext you all night long” over a bass line as catchy as crack.
The second half of the album is moodier and trippier and just as listenable. “Morgantown By Monorail” is a cool flashback to tour stops in that hilly West Virginia town. The aching, atmospheric “Without” will make you want to call your long-lost prom date from the ’80s (or even send a sext). “Never Will I Make My Move” ends the album on a brooding note.
Ayerve performed and produced pretty much everything here, meticulously layering vocals, keys and guitars over old school 808 drum machine loops and hooky bass. Every track has been lovingly fussed over and fucked with. The vocal and guitar effects, weird Casiotones, patches of static and stereo tricks reward deep headphone listening.
In a post on Spouse’s Web site, Ayerve calls A Severe Joy “an experimental work in progress: an exaggeration of the emotions, insecurities, questions, failures, triumphs, and distractions of self-analysis.” Mark this project in the triumph column.
— Chris Busby
A Severe Joy performs a CD release party on Sat., Dec. 10, at Slainte, 24 Preble St., Portland, at 9 p.m., with Henry Jamison opening. The album is available at aseverejoy.com.