As much as any budding Singer-Songwriter, Josh Kroehn depicts the multifariousness of his musical catalog with the notion that no one song follows any restrictive blueprint.
A multi-talented guitar-virtuoso from Southern Australia, with most of his youth spent in Adelaide, Josh grew up listening to as much timeless and eclectic music he could find in his parent's stash-box of records. He's honed a distinctly sullen take on indie-folk and mood-drenched poetry for the past decade, unfolding from the fractal motions of his fingers over his bewitching guitar for a bid at spotlighting the secluded despair and tragedy found in his debut record; it's an assortment of crafty indie binds with a natural bent toward definite catharsis.
It's this approach that defines 'State of Devotion.' The album's ethos—a biographical confession, a proclamation that all his songs come from the heart, and in their most authentically pure form—feels like a large plate to fill.
Still, the numbers themselves articulate with considerably more refinement and nuance, wailing "maybe I'm meant to be alone," and reminding listeners that music is the most solemn form of expression.
The record's melancholy is rooted in Josh's history, the vassal of most of his L.P.'s aggregates, and its unique guitar segments, making even the moodiest tracks feel like a clandestine mantra for the fleshiest parts of emotional release. Because while the Australian born songwriter has long acknowledged his doom-festooned mindset, singles like "As Clear As Day" and "After All" are a direct acknowledgment of that approach, they land in a place of resolution; ultimately presenting like a tenacious rebellion against submitting to the forces of depression and despair.
To that point, Josh Kroehn's tunes typically feature a reverb-drenched guitar part and the pursuance of a particular dejected spirit. The album starter, "Never Found," gives insight into Josh's inner-looking musings and his search for inner-solace, expanding from an appetite for making songs that speak universally to anyone with feelings of existential angst.
The retro-futuristic "Don’t Mind Me," a piece superficially inoculated with a punchy backbeat about Josh's social anxiety is a forward chugging production centered around the weaving and bending of a saturated guitar and the rich vocals of this heart-wrenching songster. The result is a simplistic but catchy rendition of a nostalgia-drenched, dismal-reflecting drive; think King Krule singing a dance number from the back seat of an Alexandra Savoir music video, with scintillating guitars affixed.
It's a welcome contrast to the rest of the dooms-stricken record and a highlight nonetheless. However, "State of Devotion" is at its most potent when it gets rowdy and confrontational. On the track, "Undergrowth," Josh Kroehn's vocal wails gush all over the introductory half of the way, leaving the next share to erupts into a radical racket that would seem shocking to anyone unfamiliar with the sounds of shoegaze or distortion. Before the outburst, Josh sings the final dismal words, "sent back to the undergrowth, away from what I loathe, I'm not alive, all I do is survive," and it sticks to the bones like adhesive.
"Turning Clocks" follows closely behind. It's a furious run of a number, driven by a spacey and arpeggiating guitar melody that mirrors its grim anecdote, which speaks to Josh's comprehension of what his life has become and how he got to where he is standing now.
Even as the clocks keep spinning, he's still living life to his fullest: "I may be lost, but I'm still turning clocks, doesn't matter if I die, that's the beauty of my life." He sings with a throbbing spirit, as the rumbling of his bombastic drums accentuates his heightened resoundings. It's an anthemic tug that extracts the damage of thinking too deeply about what life bestows unto you, a reminder that it's not always fair and not always soaked with a sun-drenched outlook. Or maybe it's just an exaggerated romance about the strength you need to carry on, enunciated to your depressive confreres who are going through similar existential conundrums. Whether it genuinely arrives at a topical meaning is mostly irrelevant because of how consumed you'll find yourself in Josh's immersive instrumentation.
Other songs, like "Numb Legs" and "As Clear as Day," operate with ominous dissolution. Featuring gloom-stricken lyrics and echoing guitar parts that dissolve back into the voids from which they came, like a natural change of the season: slowly evolving and simmering in its own emotionally pinched destitutions. "As Clear As Day" is the ennui-laden sister to "Numb Legs," in the same way "Undergrowth" is the ardent big brother to "Turning Clocks." Both pairs juxtaposing each other with similar shapes in terms of instrumentation but ultimately landing someplace original in the broad panorama of profound sentiments that Josh disperses with every brush and stroke of his guitar.
The final moments of 'State of Devotion' finds Josh Kroehn holding on by his last aching hand's grip, doubling down with a soft-tethered ballad, festooned with a sullen guitar and a resounding voice that widens the expanses of his introspective testaments with a silver-tongued fashion. He taps his guitar to produce subtle harmonics and gruels within the booming echoes of the room he's within.
Josh explains that even though at any given arms reach, there may be a shoulder nearby to hold onto, but regardless, he still feels secluded. He decries the state of his mind and festers in the dismal sorrow that his final words bequeath: "I'm surrounded but still alone, only a coward, after all, I have everything that I need to own, but I wish my mind would go, I wish it would go." He wants his doom-sunken mindset to get up and leave forever.
The final relinquishing blow comes in what feels like a "part two" of its predecessor. "Back In Time" is a reminiscent fountain that pours out the final heavily weighted sentiments that Josh has reserved for the parting bits of his soul-searchers campaign, and with a few surprises attached. Instead of ending with a solemn fade out in an emollient tinged haze, Josh opts for a bombastic boom and a disorienting howl that leaves a flushing after-glow.
"If I could take us back in time," he sings, as the drums come trolleying in for one last send-off; he's denoting the immense solace he finds in thinking about the past, and the better days listeners can all relate to. As Josh marks the end of his debut, 'State of Devotion,' parts ways with fans over a distortion-wreathed up-swell, contradicting his introduction and diving right back into his comfortable common-places: the introspective soundscapes of his mind; a genuine and authentic representation of the person he has become.
The present version of Josh Kroehn has grown from his essential flesh-and-blood tools—the guitar—and buzzing harmonic escapades that come attached. The influences that shaped him are still enduring, but his perspective has gone through enough turbulence to account for a fresh, odyssey of emotional intensity.
This is the introduction L.P. to come from the home-grown Australian, and it's a feature festooned with a multiverse of profound effects, to say the least. He hasn't deserted his most distinctive sonic ingredients, like the poignancy of his guitars—a tribute to shoegaze bands of the '90s, as well as his mesmerizing reverberations and voids-calling echoes. And while he may have scattered most of his most vulnerable points over thirteen songs, 'State of Devotion' is by far Josh Kroehn's most cohesive production to date, with extensive and memorable ballads to match every clear-cut pronouncement of his internal conflicts.
With decades of making music attesting to his experience, he sounds more potent than ever.
How did you find the strength to highlight some of the deep-rooted and profound emotions on 'State of Devotion'?
I’ve always had a deep-seated emotional connection to music and composing/writing has always served as a catharsis for me. It wasn’t so much about finding the strength, it was more about the necessity of letting go of past events and experiences through my passion of music.
Are there any songs that hold a special place in your heart on 'State of Devotion'? Were there any songs that presented as a challenge in including in 'State of Devotion,' fear of being criticized for them?
All of the songs are really personal and have a special place in my heart really, I see the album as a collective and the flow of the record was very intentional from song to song. It’s a chronological timeline, that reaches its breaking point in the track Undergrowth. That song is definitely one that I think could garner criticism perhaps, due to its abrupt dynamics and sheer ferocity in contrast to the melancholic, moody opening of the first few minutes.
What's been a significant musical influence and inspiration for the aesthetic and sentimental themes found within 'State of Devotion'? Do you see yourself following down this path for your next releases?
I think aesthetically I’ve always been engaged with ambient textures heard from the likes of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Sigur Rós, and Talk Talk. In terms of the sentimental themes, records like Ben Howard’s I Forget Where We Were and Noonday Dream, as well as Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool definitely, gave me the confidence to go to darker and more introspective places with my songwriting. I don’t see myself making another record exactly like this one, I’ve been playing more acoustic guitar lately and writing songs more in the same realm as Never Found, which is the opener on the record.
If you could list three emotions you were trying to convey to the audience throughout most of 'State of Devotion,' what would they be? Are these emotions something that you think will become common-place in your next musical ventures?
I always compose according to how each individual song makes me feel, which always comes from the instrumental first and foremost. I write my lyrics according to how my guitar riffs make me feel and the events in my life that they remind me of. If I had to pick three emotions, I would go for alienation, anger, and regret. I might touch on these again in the future, it all depends on what transpires in my life and where I’m at.
If you were to prefix the rendezvous of emotion that is 'State of Devotion' in your own words to prepare listeners, what would you feel the need to say and why?
I would feel the need to say that I’m the happiest and healthiest I’ve ever been in my life at this very moment, and these darker themes come from a past that I’m not ashamed of, but have learned from.