Album Review: Joy Oladokun – Proof of Life

A notable recent trend in pop music has been the rise of the heartfelt singer songwriter, offering songs about ordinary lives and love without any fancy trimmings or concern about their image. Of course all of them hitting the top of the charts have been male. You don’t see many women in any genre just standing on stage in a hoodie playing their guitar and gently singing from the heart.

Joy Oladokun’s new album ‘Proof of Life’ offers us a female version of that kind of honest, understated anti-style. What makes her even more interesting than those crop of solo singer songwriters is the inventive and fresh sound she creates on this record – taking pop, folk, indie and jazz influences and fusing them into something new of her own.

‘Keeping the Lights on’ offers us a brilliant introduction to this sound whose appeal hinges on the delicate mix of her gorgeous voice and the soft shimmer of the music. A more simple acoustic arrangement also suits her, like on ‘Changes’ where the lyrics tell the story of someone trying their best to understand the world and their place in it. This one was co-written by Dan Wilson, of Semisonic fame.

Despite working with him and a number of other co-writers on this record, she also offers us an array of solo written songs which help prove her honest authenticity. One of the stand outs is ‘Taking Things for Granted’ where she describes isolation from her peers as a child, which instead of creating cynicism has led her to try to maintain a blind optimism about the goodness of others. Similarly the lovely ‘Somebody Like Me’ asks for acceptance, understanding and love, while also offering one of the best vocal performances on the record.

With such an open-hearted style it’s unsurprising that many artists have lined up to collaborate with Joy on this record, including the band Mt Joy, Manchester Orchestra, Maxo Kream and Noah Kayan.

The most notable guest on the record is Chris Stapleton, who duets on the soulful beauty ‘Sweet Symphony’. The song’s YouTube comments are full of people already declaring this their wedding song, which is testament to its immediacy and emotional resonance.

Songs like ‘Trying’, ‘Pride’ and ‘The Hard Way’ are quiet reminders to keep going forward and rise above those trying to hurt you. There’s a real sense of hopeful courage here, coming from her experience as a queer, black woman making her way in the music industry.

What makes this record a really enjoyable listen is that she’s not afraid of experimenting with her styles, from the r’n’b tinged ‘Revolution’ which includes a guest rap, to ‘We’re All Gonna Die’ which is a Weezer inspired fun slacker anthem.

Joy has called the album a collection of ‘helpful anthems’, and listening to these songs really does feel like having a comforting conversation with a friend. She finishes with the lovely ‘Somehow’ and a reminder that ‘somehow things just get better’.

‘Proof of Life’ is an album for those who believe that hopeful, brighter days are ahead. That optimism, in these troubled times, feels revolutionary in itself.


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