If the album title ‘I’ve Got Me’ is in any way accurate, well, Joanna Sternberg is in pretty good company. On this record they manage to innocently and consistently dazzle with surprisingly catchy folk songs, a wide array of varied instrumentation, and genuinely beautiful songwriting.
So often when a record lands on Bandcamp and has that ‘outsider’ feel to it does it seem inevitable it will just become another forgotten album in an artist’s seemingly infinite discography. It almost seems like artists are obliged to release every single track they make into the unending Bandcamp void until they find themselves in their early 20’s with enough albums out to rival GBV. Obviously then, some of the material ends up rubbish. Or at least dull.
Not the case here. Joanna’s first full length since 2019 is purposeful and moving. I first listened to the album on a fairly innocuous train journey, which was cool, because it has that quality of making you look out of the window of a moving vehicle, imagining you’re at some sort of pivotal turning point in the biopic of your life. Trains are, as we all know, the best vehicle for this.
Unfortunately I was actually just on a rather short train to Manchester to eat a pizza with my sister on her birthday, but it made the journey far less boring when I was briefly able to step into the role of man-leaving-home-town-with-big-city-dreams, or the character of man-trapped-in-relationship-escapes-to-travel-world. At the end of the train journey, I brutally killed off both characters anyway, so as not to ruin a 16 year old girl’s birthday party with the delusions of a 26 year old softboi.
It would be easy to compare them to artists like Daniel Johnston and Regina Spektor (which is why I’m choosing to point out how lazy the comparison is, whilst still acknowledging it, performing what we call a two-bird-one-stone technique) but what they do is totally wonderful in it’s own right. Lyrically, it’s one of the sweetest and most heartbreaking albums I’ve heard this year.
A few favourites: "People Are Toys To You" opens with the line “I’m so glad I met you, you helped me see/Just how very much I hate me”. “Stockholm Syndrome” features the equally cheerful lyrics: “Did you keep your room so dirty/So I’d feel like I had the flu/Did you expect me to clean it/Like your mom must’ve done for you.” Later in the album on ‘Right Here’ they say: “You will always have my heart/If I like it or not/But Knowing you, you’ve already forgot”.
The opening track, "I’ve Got Me" is also one of the most pleasantly saccharine songs of the year. It’s a testament to taking accountability for your actions, and the strange comfort of your own company and not relying on anyone else. The track seems to wonder whether it’s a good or bad thing to only have yourself ‘in the morning’ and ‘in the evening’ too. To me it has the same energy as the moment on the track ‘In California’ by Joanna Newsom where she proclaims: “I don’t belong to anyone/My heart is heavy as an oil drum” but replacing the epic atmosphere on that track with a twee one here. The sentiment, however, is just as fist-pump-the-air inducing.
The childlike, almost naive sound of Joanna’s vocals throughout the record have a strange impact on the atmosphere of the more upsetting songs. I don’t mean this in a patronising way. Suggesting the audience pity them would be wrong, rather, it reminds us of being little again, and the innocence of having your heart broken, or being isolated by people for the first time, and the bizarre loneliness you can’t quite articulate yet at that age. Well their songwriting is definitely mature, the echoes of naivety in the vocal style make it even more compelling.
The record is out now on Fat Possum Records, which sports such diverse talent as Armand Hammer, Al Green and Youth Lagoon. The album is great. There will be no numerical rating assigned as they’re arbitrary and it is also now 5PM and I am going to buy a pint instead of thinking of one. This being the first album review of the blog, it will set the tone for all other album reviews, and none will feature a numerical rating.
Joanna Sternberg's "I've Got Me" is available now on all streaming platforms.