For Australian singer-songwriter James Keogh, better known as Vance Joy, his debut album could not be more appropriately titled. Dream Your Life Away sums up the rollercoaster ride he has been on since his incredibly infectious single Riptide – first released on debut EP God Loves You When You’re Dancing – shot up charts around the world towards the back end of 2013 and the start of this year.
As well as peaking at Number 10 in the UK Singles Chart, the song was named the number one song in Australian radio station Triple J’s Hottest 100 of 2013, thanks to its whimsical, clean-cut guitar hook and Joy’s bittersweet vocal. “I love you when you’re singing that song/ and I got a lump in my throat/ ’cause you’re gonna sing the words wrong,” he sings, sweeping listeners up in a whirlwind of upbeat positivity.
However, the test for an artist such as Vance Joy, who comes out of nowhere with a song that captures the imagination, is always whether it can be backed up. And while there is nothing that leaps off Dream Your Life Away quite like Riptide, it is undoubtedly a solid and accomplished collection of folk pop songs – even if it does overstay its welcome somewhat at 50 minutes long.
Kicking off with the wistfully strummed Winds Of Change, it’s clear from the outset that Vance Joy has a particular straightforward formula that he feels comfortable with. The opener revolves around another mid-tempo acoustic guitar melody, before Joy’s strained vocal enters the fray, as he sings: “Cause this heavy heart, oh, how it’s yearned/ cause I’ve been alone far too long/ when are you coming home, my love?”
As with much of the record, it is a song about love, but one that is heart-warming and charming in its simplicity. Single Mess Is Mine is another highlight, with its quaint melody and rumbling beat bringing to mind Mumford And Sons, while From Afar – which was also on the God Loves You… EP – is an emotive ode to a girl who appears to have gotten away (Well I’ve been living on the crumbs of your love/ and I’m starving now”).
While Joy’s repetitive yearning can be a tad overbearing at times – he certainly doesn’t seem to have been very lucky in love – his storytelling ability has an endearing quality that prevents his musings about the subject from ever sounding forced. Take the melancholic Georgia, which lyrically draws on the classic Ray Charles track for another poignant love song, or the mellow, Fleet Foxes-indebted Wasted Time (“Well I, I’ve got a lot to say/ and I am scared, that you’re gonna slip away”).
Yet the longer Dream Your Life Away goes on the more it begins to drag, with the repetitive use of the acoustic guitar and Joy’s unadventurous song structures becoming ever more indistinguishable. We All Die Trying To Get It Right has little to mark it out from most of the other tracks on the album, while Best That I Can just blends into the background with its wondering, nondescript guitar melody.
Ultimately, Vance Joy’s debut album is not one that throws up many surprises. For those who have heard Riptide – which is probably almost everyone – the rest of Dream Your Life Away will be familiar. It is this lack of experimentation that lets the record down over its 13 tracks, especially as his formula fails to produce another song that reaches the same heights as his breakout hit. That said, for what Vance Joy lacks in originality, he makes up for in enthusiasm and his debut is at least lovable in its sincerity.