Torn: Tonic, the sophomore album from Melbourne-based artist, musician, singer, performer, poet and producer, Allysha Joy, has such an abundance of riches that it compels you to consider multiples. Should I just marvel at the fact that it exists at all? Is this another triumph for the Melbourne movement that close friends have been dogging me about since 2009? Has Allysha Joy reframed that movement by recasting it in a 10-song manifesto created by women and non-binary folks committed to making growth and change in the world? Is this a delayed seed budding 20 years past the whole Soulquarians movement where soul, hip-hop, jazz tendencies and lyrical empowerment took control and established a new lane for like-minded creatives to operate from?
Like most contemporary innovations, they are collectively assembled and made for the micro, not the masses. Allysha Joy’s self-produced album, “No love songs, just anthems, and hymns and remedies for change” as she says in a press release, features superior groove. Uptempo or heartbeat. This member of the 30/70 collective has made an inward-looking record that fights and loves all at once through sublime neo-soul arrangements.
“Calling You,” inspired by a Steve Spacek song of the same name, twists and turns into cottdamn rolling funk. Joy’s vocal huskiness, Fender Rhodes coloring and Ego Ella May’s darting articulation transform this plea to speak up against political right-wing, conservative balderdash into an earworm for justice. The explosive “Let It,” with jazz and broken beat parts, propels a story about letting go, freeing oneself from conditioning to an angular funk that kept ears and asses spinning and lingering in a Kaidi Tatham resonance.
Hiatus Kaiyote started a movement, and the following generation has no qualms about acknowledging it. Allysha Joy, who calls the breakout Melbourne band “family,” has taken that energy and spark and pushed it. Tapping into something, not specifically house or techno, but dance music at times so actively low-slung—most def Detroit inspired—but worked through a redesigned prism.
Torn: Tonic has a certain agency with the orchestration. Her joints are framed with a loose structure that feels of the moment. Dreamy emotion and neoteric beat construction, present that sensation of getting so lost—including the Julien Dyne-assisted “Still Dreaming”—enamored with a feeling, this joy (no pun intended) forever in repetition. All of Joy’s tracks, packed with the message of creating social and political change, possess that one moment so good that it doesn’t matter if you make it back.
Label: First Word
John-Paul Shiver has been contributing to Treble since 2018. His work as an experienced music journalist and pop culture commentator has appeared in The Wire, 48 Hills, Resident Advisor, SF Weekly, Bandcamp Daily, PulpLab, AFROPUNK and Drowned In Sound.