An artist’s work is essentially her diary – often reflective, most times vulnerable, but always honest. In her third full-length album, Pittsburgh-based independent artist Joy Ike offers her most realized work yet – All or Nothing – 10 songs about giving up everything you have in exchange for everything you need.
The style of music played on the album is what Joy Ike affectionately calls “soulfolk”. This is an adequate description, as well. Ike’s soulful vocals mesh well with the at times folky music and lyrics. It should be said that it is not folky by instrumentation, there are no banjos or consistently used acoustic guitars, Ike is a pianist.
Joy Ike has been related to artists like Regina Spektor, Norah Jones, and Fiona Apple due to her female pianist-singer persona.
Ike, whose parents both from Nigeria, says on her website, “Some of my earliest memories involve sitting in the living room with my family singing Nigerian choruses and finding ways to harmonize with my father’s booming voice and my mother’s soprano harmonies.” These Nigerian influences would eventually mesh in her mind with the popular music of the US, resulting in poppy piano based songs where the piano is played very percussively, giving the music a distinct feel.
The music on All or Nothing spans between slow, beautiful piano ballads and upbeat pop. The setlist is as follows,
1.) “Everything You Have”
2.) “No Matter What”
6.) “The Promised Land”
7.) “The Fall Song”
8.) “Pick Me Up”
9.) “Don’t Ever Die”
All or Nothing opens with “Everything You Have,” which sounds very much like a pop song… in a good way. The song is upbeat, with brightly played piano and orchestra parts. The song is essentially about standing out from the crowd and not giving into the materialism that most of society favors. The Ike sings, “I don’t want to make the world my god/ give up everything for nothing/ I don’t care who you think you are/ everything you have will fall apart.” Basically, material possessions will not last so Ike would rather be with God than with society, for that is where she can truly find happiness.
Listen to and watch the music video below,
“No Matter What” starts off as a slower, tender piano piece. Hand drums, piano and vocals are softly played and sung until, out of nowhere, there is a brief pause in the music and the song breaks wide open. An electric guitar plays a cool sounding hook and what sounds like a keyboard effect become the center of the music. Ike then comes back in vocally and takes over a call-and-response dynamic with the music. She will sing over simple hand claps and then the music will come in to respond to what was sung. The dynamics make it one of the strongest tracks on the album.
“Happy” is also unique on the album in the fact that it is the only song in which the music consists primarily of simply strummed ukelele, rather than the usual piano. There is subtle upright bass to be heard and drums that are just there to keep time. It is one of Ike’s songs that make it easy to draw comparisons to Regina Spektor. It is a subtle song that doesn’t draw a lot of attention to itself, but is very good nonetheless. Ike’s voice sounds great while she sings about wanting to make those she cares about, and more importantly herself, happy with her.
The fifth song, “Time,” actually sounds a bit like Pearl and the Beard vocally. It is a love song, the theme of which is being with the one you love and “never worrying about wasting your time.” The vocals are mostly sung in a loud but soft whisper. It is a strong song on the album, being very catchy and pretty to listen to. There are also parts of the song where birds can be heard chirping, which is a neat little detail to pick up on.
“The Fall Song” is a personal favorite with a distinct sound that sets it apart from the rest of the songs on All or Nothing. What makes it unique is the instrumentation. The song begins with Marimba paired with a vibes effect on a keyboard. More layers are steadily added as the track goes on. First, electric bass and a drum kit are added, followed by vocals then vocal harmonies. For the chorus, piano and hand drums are added. The hand drums thankfully stay throughout the rest of the song, they give it a very cool, organic feel. The tone is happy and poppy, making for a really fun song. Ike says, “we were trying to capture the energy that the song has at live shows.” Check out a live performance below,
The album ends with “Home”, a slow piano ballad full of soul and emotion. It consists of Ike, her piano, and orchestra parts. It’s a pleasant, low-key song that builds upon itself as it goes on. It is the perfect song to end the album with because it really winds down All or Nothing and leaves the listener feeling satisfied. It ultimately ends with the soothing sound of chirping birds, which can also be heard on the 5th song, “Time.”
All or Nothing is a great album as a whole. There is a good variety of songs so that it is always interesting to listen through. You can purchase the album on iTunes as well as preview most of it on Joy Ike’s Bandcamp. I strongly encourage you to check it out.
Additionally, Joy Ike will be playing several shows to celebrate the release including one in Lancaster, PA and one in Grove City, PA. The Lancaster show will be tomorrow, March 3 at 6:30 and the Grove City show will be next Saturday, March 9. See the dates and specifics here.