Name Sayers will impress all but the most cynical or dismissive listeners. Their eleven-song outing Joyboys in the Grindhouse is a bucket of blood synth pop feast but doesn’t stop there. They spike their combustible musical concoction with generous doses of hip-hop, rock, and electronica without ever coming across as a well-intentioned hodgepodge of sound. In lesser hands, it would sound like a band trying too hard, doing too much. Name Sayers, however, brings a rigorous focus to these songs that’s almost claustrophobic and never repeats itself.
There are unifying elements, however, that make this a coherent musical statement. The band introduces a representative template they follow for the remaining ten tracks with the album’s opening number “We Multiply”. Their unabashed embrace of contemporary tempos/rhythms blends well with the darker overtones that carry over from one track to the next. Name Sayers pushes an idiosyncratic lyrical perspective, as well, that further distinguishes their work from the pack.
They continue developing that lyrical perspective with the song “Receiving Evil”. Not many bands can claim darker subject matter without dragging listeners into a miasma of downbeat despair siphoning off any enjoyment of the material. Name Sayers, however, achieves this difficult feat. The wide array of colors and energetic texture of their songs takes hold of your attention from the start and doesn’t let go. It borders on overwhelming, here and elsewhere, but those risks never fully blossom.
“Lioness” boasts a bold percussive-driven arrangement and the churning trajectory of its evolution gains added traction from the evocative whispered vocals. The latter element of the song could work against the track but doesn’t. Vocalist Devin James Fry enunciates each line with purpose and his phrasing imbues the performance with drama. Drummer Marc Henry is an arguably unsung hero on this release as his playing provides consistent complementary rhythms that elevate each song.
The haunted spectral landscape of “Standing Wave” is artistic synth-pop at its highest level. Atmospherics are crucial to the song’s success and Name Sayers surrounds the song in a synthesizer-fueled glow. They don’t rely on it alone, however. Garrett Hellman’s guitar playing is another key cog in Name Sayers’ musical machinery and his playing during the song’s second half fleshes out the cut’s potential. Melding hip-hop and synth-pop produce a near masterpiece in miniature with the song “Three Will Grow Back”, but there are even more surprises in store. Rappers Chris Corde and E-Turn give commanding vocal performances, but recruiting iconic proto-punk guitar hero Wayne Kramer, famed for his role in Detroit’s The MC5, gives the song an unexpected rock bite.
“Other Lives” is one of Hellman’s finest moments on the album. It’s another unexpected turn from the band as the track delves into near-alternative rock territory with the same fluency characterizing its predecessors. Name Sayers are capable stylistic chameleons without ever losing listeners along the way. “The Oblivion Seed” is a brief finale that nonetheless packs enough sonic firepower for two songs. The maelstrom of sound they harness for this closer is a perfect conclusion to one of the year’s most distinctive efforts. Self-released, Name Sayers’ Joyboys in the Grindhouse stands up against anything from major labels, indie or mainstream, and promises even greater triumphs to come.