Review: Allysha Joy is ripe with authenticity — she has bite, but no teeth

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Review: Allysha Joy is ripe with authenticity — she has bite, but no teeth

Allysha Joy
Words by Elle Henriksen

Known for her vocals in Melbourne-based Hip Hop band 30/70, Allysha Joy returned to the Evelyn Hotel on Thursday 25 November to perform her solo works and some unreleased tracks.

With Melbourne’s pubs and shops reopening, concerts are also making a highly anticipated and welcomed return. The Evelyn is a venue well versed in rising (and risen) alternative artists, often holding regular gigs for locals with no advertising needed. Allysha Joy is a familiar face at the Evelyn, having held a residency there in 2017 supported by local up-and-coming artists.

As the first post-lockdown gig for both Joy and the Evelyn, the music rocked Fitzroy like a 1999 New Year’s Eve party. The stage glimmered with fluoro lights, bathing the band in abstract visuals. As a learned keys player and expressive poet, Joy is humble in her performance. She remained seated at her keyboard for the entire show, a white tulle veil draping across her instrument and along centre stage. Joy paints smiles on her audience’s faces, holding their attention without stage theatrics.

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Joy test drives much of her unreleased music during the gig. With her fingers sprawled across the keyboard, she folds melodies into the musical mix like a batter; rich and viscous, moving and changing as the rhythm twines. Her music builds with and around her. One of the unreleased tracks is a duet, Joy’s vocals weaving the melody as the Conga drum breathes with simplicity. The experience felt nearly spiritual.

Joy’s solo career is an artistic pilgrimage to become a multifaceted and confident musician. In 2018, Joy released her debut solo album Acadie : Raw, the clear favourites being ‘Selfish’ and ‘Know Your Power’. The complete track-list is diverse and spins sans weakness. Tracks ‘Honesty’ and ‘Eagle’ sound influenced by Erykah Badu, as Joy’s jazz-rap lyrics coil and stretch to drive the rhythm. ‘Desire’ offers a dynamic and raw chorus with some fantastic snare play, nearly reminiscent of Georgia Anne Muldrow’s 2009 album Early. Twinkling synth sets out ‘Enate’ as a timeless ballad but listen closely to 2:10 when the track crumbles into funky basslines and sturdy drum ripples.

Some critics fault Allysha Joy for being too similar to Nai Palm of Hiatus Kaiyote. While Joy’s track ‘Better’ could easily fit into the Hiatus Kaiyote discography, this is because Joy’s 2020 EP Light It Again was produced by Hiatus Kaiyote drummer and producer Clever Austin. The overlap is real and creatively productive. Both bands transcend artificial boundaries of genre and music making and have collectively curated the neo-soul and funk genre which shapes Melbourne’s soundscape.

Joy’s music is eclectic in a masterful way with unique poeticism like Patti Smith and uncharted chord progressions like Blonde Redhead. Her art challenges the concept of genre, as she draws on elements of new-wave post punk, neo-soul, and jazz funk to tell stories through sound and movement. In 2021, Allysha Joy released various collaborative projects with artists TOTEK, Makez, and Close Counters which challenged her own artistic reflexes.

As a lyricist who typically adorns her music with hope, Joy is utterly transparent in her struggles as a musician. She said making music is as ‘equally heartbreaking’ as it is satisfying, and the unreleased tracks she shared at the Evelyn feel especially driven by this sentiment, raw and powerful in their words and sound.

All too soon, Joy signalled the close of the show by offering appreciation and praise to the audience and venue. Humbled, she said ‘It means the world to us to be playing again and to see your beautiful faces’. She invited friend and musician Bumpy from the audience to join her in singing the brilliant title track ‘Light It Again’ from her 2020 EP. Joy’s vocals are cutting but tender, and the instrumental pursuit at 3:55 manifests thick reverberation in the audience’s ears. The syncopated bass disrupts the metric equilibrium as if cutting metal marbles from Newton’s cradle. And under this thumbing bassline, the drums cripple and crack like amplified sounds of paint splatter. Joy’s music is ripe with authenticity — it has bite, but no teeth.

The uproar for an encore took Joy by surprise. Reeling in the audience for one last track, she spills rhythm and blues in ‘Watercolours’ from Light It Again. Joy is captivating, but not in the way that begs for attention. The recorded track relies on drums for energy, but Joy drops the beat in favour of slowing the venue’s heart-rate.

That first gig back is like an addict’s euphoria and a catholic’s confession. It’s the itch that can’t quite be scratched. Melbourne has a taste for live music again and there’s no going back.

Head to Allysha Joy’s website for the latest tour info.