Joshua Radin – Onwards & Sideways (2015)
I’m going to be honest, I had no idea who Joshua Radin was before jumping aggressively into this album. Let’s find out together.
At first listen, this album is the perfect blend of teenage love overcoming adversity with the person of your highschool dreams, and angsting over the possibility that maybe you’ll be alone forever because you are occasionally garbage. The entirety of Onwards & Sideways would not be out of place in an overly dramatic teen drama. (Actually, I googled it, and Joshua Radin’s music has been featured on a lot of teen dramas).
There are some hidden gems in this album. The second track, Belong, has got probably the catchiest chorus beat since Serena Ryder hit the scene with Stompa. It has the same heavy steady drumbeat, and frankly some adorably charming maraca shaking and a little ukulele action. It’s got a very late summer feel, like driving down the highway with your hand out the window surfing the wind, and your best pal is chilling in the driver’s seat, probably with a Starbucks iced latte or something. The whole song gives this feeling of finally finding that person that you can lie on the floor with at midnight and discuss your ideas on UFOs.
Don’t think this means all the songs are gold. I know I’m not the only person that’s pretty over the forlorn lost manchild searching the world over for his MPDG, but Joshua doesn’t share these sentiments. The album is wrought with images of big-eyed girls and clear skies, nature and long walks. Yes, this album does flow nicely into itself, but at about three-quarters of the way through, this turned into my not being able to tell when a song ended and when the next one began. At one point I got really excited because it sounded like Joshua was about to churn out a (what would be sure to be a beautiful) cover of Bright Eyes’ First Day Of My Life. I was wrong. It was simply Angel, another song about this perfect girl that Joshua would “walk the desert sand” for. He’s walking a lot in this song, actually.
Sheryl Crow collaborates on the third track, and honestly it is the song’s only saving grace. Her harmonizing is on point; she makes the tired lyrics breathe with a familiarity that is reflected in the idea of looking at a place you know like the back of your hand and suddenly seeing this new facet of beauty, and without Sheryl, this song would make me angry with its optimistic gung-ho attitude and keen piano.
Generally, this isn’t my cup of tea. I don’t hate this soft adult alternative genre—I will sit in the dark and listen to The Weepies quietly if I am sad. But there’s something about this album that—despite its beautiful melodies, soothing guitar, weaving transitions—does nothing to soothe me. During Worlds Apart, all I could picture was a middle-aged wife in a loveless marriage, sitting on her couch in a beautiful cocktail dress and a housecoat, sipping her chardonnay and trying not to cry while listening to old Rod Stewart albums. Her lipstick is smudged and her hair is tumbling out of her elaborate up-do. She is past caring.
Objectively, this is a beautiful exploration of the thrilling rollercoaster of falling absolutely and completely in love with a new and exciting person. The soft piano and gentle strumming, the slow bass, gives this feeling of a slow fall, in which you can feel every single part of your body thrumming when this person looks at you. In this way, the exhausting lyrics waxing poetics about bright skies and fields of flowers and matching heartbeats is a true exposition of the overwhelming anatomy of complete infatuation. Joshua’s soft almost-whisper matches the aesthetic of a quiet moment you’re afraid to break, so you talk quietly and slowly, trying to hold on to that strange blanket of intimacy that has fallen over you both. It’s an unobtrusive invitation into the buzzing chest of a person learning how to love another. It’s honest, and quiet, and it is a gentle promise to another human being, a quiet proclamation of “I want to try everything on earth with you, if you’ll let me.”
So, I will give Joshua Radin this: he knows how to croon out a soft love song that can relate at once to young teenagers driving around, laughing about their sweaty palms and stuttering breaths, and to thirty-somethings learning how to fall in love again. It is mature, and at the same time has an endearing quality of youthfulness and innocence that breathes with the shakiness of a nervous laugh. The imagery of natural journeys speak to the organic quality of heavy infatuation—bright skies and glowing moons, distant stars: these are all expansive unknowns full of a beauty you have to experience to truly understand. Joshua, you have at once infuriated me and charmed me, because despite my frustration I listened to your album for four hours straight.
Review by Cole Hayton