Joel Strauss - Songs for the Vaudeville Theatre
Released February 24, 2016
By Eric Lusk
I'm a sucker for unique voices, so when I heard Joel Strauss' latest album I was immediately hooked. His vocals are so peculiar I can only manage to draw a connection to the sound of James Ryan of Gloomfeather (an equally unknown group worth checking out), but even this comparison is a stretch. Writing, performing and producing his music in Kelowna, BC, Strauss has put out a surprisingly large discography, all of which is excellent. The man does most of the work on his own, choosing to rely solely on his creative capacity to get the job done.
The whole EP is fantastic to listen to from beginning to end, but the sort-of-title-track Vaudeville really piqued my curiosity and interest. The drum and bass rhythm gets you to nod your head or tap your toe as soon as the song begins. This rhythm is accentuated by Strauss' unique voice doing sonic acrobatics over top, climbing up and sliding down like a musical version of snakes and ladders. The guitars on this track fill in the middle ground between the rhythm and vocals, but aren't particularly noticeable for the most part, letting a solo go mostly unheard for me the first time I played the track.
I firmly believe, though, that any song I choose to listen to twice can be divided into one of two categories. The first contains music I listen to again because I understand what the musician is telling me. This category includes most decent pop songs with a catchy hook. The second (and more interesting) group is filled with the songs you listen to again because you didn't understand them the first time around. Vaudeville is a song which fits into this category. It takes several plays to realize exactly what Strauss is doing with the guitars in this track, changing from a subtle picking pattern in the first verse to a more rhythm-centric chord progression in the second. I'm still finding hidden gems among the layers of sound in this piece of music.
In a conversation with Joel earlier this week, he told me that although his main influences include Bob Dylan, John Lennon and Tom Waits, his music has been compared to that of Neutral Milk Hotel and The Decemberists, both of which, according to him, have no place in his library. Personally, I have a hard time constructing a link between Strauss' music and anyone else's, which is a definite mark of true musicianship. Keep it up, Joel!