REVIEW: Jo Passed - Up

Kelly Kirwan

There’s a quiet isolation that comes at night. Insomnia sets in, feelings of exhaustion intermingle with that tug of restlessness, and you’re torn between two worlds, too familiar with the witching hour. It’s the sort of sleep affliction that’s rife with symbolism for Joseph Hirabayashi, whose bout of sleepless nights followed the gradual disbanding of his Vancouver-based modern psych group Spring. This wasn’t the first time that Hirabayshi had an artistic outfit splinter off, and Spring itself was formed from the pieces of a prior progressive punk band the SSRIs. But this particular fracture was different. Deeper. It put Hirabayashi and a long-time friend and collaborator on hiatus, leaving the star of our show, Joseph, uprooted and at a standstill. His remedy ultimately came in the form of music, and the hair of the dog that bit him—which, in this case, was change.

So, Hirabayashi packed his bags and switched coasts to set his sights on Montreal—not in an attempt to plant new roots, but in an effort to embrace the ever-shifting course of events that is, well, life. Hence Jo Passed, an “emergent project” of Hirabayashi’s that now has an emerging EP, Up, the sophomore project to follow Jo Passed’s first record, Out. It’s as if Hirabayashi took the pieces of his former artistic enterprises and rearranged them to form a new mosaic. There’s a hearty hand of distortion tied to psych-rock, sparse and at times darkly poetic lyrics that feel slightly tinted with punk, and synth accents courtesy of Bella McKee. Up has an underground feel, recorded in the nooks and crannies of Hirabayashi’s rolling-stone lifestyle, turning garage rock into a form of on-the-road rock.

Of the four songs Jo Passed presents, Up’s final song, “Virtue,” is perhaps the most low-key and meandering. Its beat turns from metallic, nasally guitar strums to clashes of cymbals or synth—a melody that knows no straight line, but the continual interruption of fuzz over circular riffs. Hirabayashi’s voice is as gentle as an exhalation, gradually fading into a skipping record and an unplugged amp swarm of static. This ending—to both the song and the album—is a circle back to Up’s opener, "Look Up," with Hirabayshi’s voice stretching into the atmosphere for a connection, “Hey el / Testing / Can you hear me? / Hey el / Testing / Are you reading?”

Only “Virtue” isn’t so much a radio message into the ether as it a reflection on the way things tend to shake down. Hirabayashi’s soft voice against the melody has the effect of those black and white pinwheels used in hypnotism, the final lines repeating, “There’s no need to explain yourself / Grow up or behave yourself.” The words sound harsh on paper, but not so much in Hirabayashi’s timbre. It’s more of a nonchalant acceptance—yes, it’s time to grow, either into adulthood or even just a new life direction. Because if there’s one thing Hirabayshi can do, it’s adapt.