By Kiana Lei Yap | Opinion Columnist

Vance Joy proves the range of his artistic talent with his newest album, “Nation of Two,” set to tour California in April. (Courtesy of Indie Hoy)

On Feb. 23, Australian indie-folk artist Vance Joy released his second album, “Nation of Two,” and has not disappointed those loyal to his breezy love song ballads. Four years after releasing his debut album “Dream Your Life Away,” which featured catchy upbeat hit “Riptide,” Vance Joy continues to stick with his trademark acoustic guitar and ukulele style. But he noticeably adds more harmonies and boastful horns—similar to Mumford & Sons’ trademark style.

According to his Spotify artist profile, Melbourne-native Joy was born James Keogh but took the name “Vance Joy” to separate his personal and professional artistic life. After signing with Atlantic Records, Joy solo toured internationally in 2013 before joining Taylor Swift in 2015 as an opener for her “1989” world tour.

However, Joy has been making a name for himself as an up-and-coming figurehead in the alternative, indie-folk scene alongside artists like The Lumineers and The Head and the Heart. Joy entertained crowds at some of the biggest United States music festivals, including Lollapalooza and Outside Lands in 2017. He’ll also be making his second Coachella appearance for both weekends of the 2018 festival.

A quick scroll through song titles on “Nation of Two” reveals a romantic, playful theme with titles like “I’m With You” and “Where We Start.” The headlining song, “Call If You Need Me,” draws listeners in with a simple ballad accompanied with a dreamy acoustic guitar before diving into the next song “Lay It On Me,” which preceded the full album as a single.

While “We’re Going Home” and “Saturday Sun” feature his newly expanded repertoire of drums and horn sections, one can’t help but have flashbacks to standing in the middle of a Hollister store in 2010, playful beachy tunes without lyrical substance and all. Luckily the colorful instrumentals and “Riptide”-like beats make up for cheesy lyrics like “Oh, Saturday Sun / I met someone / Don’t care what it costs / No ray of sunlight’s ever lost” and a “filler” harmony of “Ba-da-ba-baah.” I’m not sure what Joy was thinking while writing these lyrics, but my guess is that he was also relying on the instrumentals to cover them up enough for listeners to enjoy the song.

Speaking of filler lyrics, it’s a bit upsetting, as a Vance Joy fan, to hear him use them so profusely. In addition to “Saturday Sun,” filler harmonies are used extensively in “Crashing Into You” and “Like Gold.” They complement the instrumentals, and Joy executes them in his ever-mesmerizing voice, but they feel like a crutch between verses and choruses.

Two songs that encapsulate the varied instruments, sweeping harmonic vocals, and feature lyrics that tell a more meaningful story are the back-to-back “One Of These Days” and “Little Boy.” The former is the perfect inspirational song that resonates well with college-age students getting ready to enter the “real world” but may be unsure of where their current path in life will ultimately lead them. For many of us getting ready to graduate and be wholly on our own, the post-grad life can look uncertain. Part of the enlivening chorus goes “Wherever you go, you’ll be in the right place / You’ll never know the difference it makes / When you let go, and give up your chase / I’ll come find you one of these days.” Romantic undertones give way to uplifting lyrics and a hearty guitar-driven beat to match.

“Little Boy” is a gem that’s buried towards the end. In vocals accompanied by a hushed guitar, Joy leads listeners through a couple of his childhood memories in suburban Melbourne. From an interview with Josh Butler of the Huffington Post, Joy noted, “The most autobiographical song I have is [‘Little Boy’] and it gave me confidence I could write a song that was more directly about me. It’s a song about when I was eight or 10 years old, and a story about me falling off my bike and going to the hospital. I was remembering that time, how my parents cared for me, just little details of my childhood.” Listeners get a small peek into Joy’s personal life—a side of him that he previously kept separate from his professional career. The song ends with an endearing outro, “And I’ll always be that little boy / And I’ve always been that little boy,” as it pulls listeners into Joy’s childhood reminiscences in light of adulthood and his career.

Among the criticisms for the album, Joy takes what he does well instrumentally and amplifies it to his benefit. As a fan of his music, and after having seen him at Outside Lands in 2017, I think he’s a prime example of a multi-talented artist and crowd-pleasing performer.

“Nation of Two’s” scheduled tour dates includes one local stop at UC Berkeley’s Greek Theatre on April 13.

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