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The Future That Was

Cynicism, Hope, and Nostalgia All in One

By Pey-Hua Hwang

Staff writer

The Future That Was

Josh Joplin Group

Artemis Records

Release date Sept. 24

The Future That Was by the Josh Joplin Group covers territory covered many times before. It reflects upon finding oneself, missing loved ones, bitterness towards the idiosynchrasies of pop culture, and the safety in nostalgia. However, old themes can be given new life with the proper treatment and Joplin’s dry humor, creative lyrics, and catchy choruses give this album a refreshingly new sound.

This is an album that knows how to love life and laugh at itself. In “Trampoline,” Joplin sings about trying to figure out what to believe in, which is often the same thing as putting self-pity to music; however, Joplin avoids this age-old pratfall by being able to poke fun at his own predicament. With lines like “some people ... get their information from burning bushes, well I tried but the neighbors complained, I set their lawns aflame,” it is very hard to help but chuckle at the silliness while relating to Joplin and recalling ones own youthful misadventures. The melody of this number also bounces along as crisply as a “Get In Line,” a similarly well-done number by the Barenaked Ladies.

Continuing in the vein of the upbeat melodies of this album, “It’s Only Entertainment,” “The Wonderful Ones,” and “ Happy At Last” are full of references to the music industry (Michael Stipe, Fred Durst, Backstreet Boys) and popular culture in general (Catcher in Rye, To Kill a Mocking Bird, Pat Boone, and the ubiquitous use of “like” as a filler word). One could even make a game of trying to catch all of the subtle meanings behind the name dropping. In contrast, the slower melodies speak honestly about human nature. The insights, such as “when a star is dying we all cling to what cannot last,” are a genuine articulation of emotions that people grasp at words to describe. However, in its bleakest lyrics, “with every box you pack you feel like you could start crying at the feet of an angel that offers no mercy ... you still believe,” this album is more an anthem to the future that will be rather than the future that was.

The first single off the album, “I Am Not the Only Cowboy,” is not very characteristic of the rest of the album. The clever lyrics and solid accompaniment are still there, but the first couple of lyrics are spoken instead of being sung. Granted, the rhythm of the speech follows that of the acoustic guitar underlay, but in an album that otherwise contains no such speech singing it seems slightly out of place. A more fitting song for release as a single would have been “Happy At Last.”

My first introduction to Josh Joplin’s music was when I went to see him live at the Harvard Square House of Blues, at the request of one of my friends. I wasn’t expecting much when I saw a fairly average looking guy walk out on the stage with two guitars and around five harmonicas set up. However, his easy-going stage persona and substantial musical ability soon changed my mind. He played many of the songs off “The Future That Was” as well has his older albums, “Useful Music,” and “Projector Head.” What impressed me the most was that he could relay the same musical message with just an acoustic guitar and a harmonica that the album accomplished with a full back up band and the aid of a soundboard. In my mind, when a song can be carried by a solo act as well as a full band, that means that song was well-written. “The Future That Was” is full of these songs.