It is rare, if ever, that a band’s background reflects so deeply on its music and becomes a part of the listening experience itself. The Joy of Nature, founded in 1999 as the Joy of Nature and Discipline by sole member Luis Couto (with several different collaborators across each album), began in the place of his birth: the Azores Archipelago west of Portugal. A cursory image search of the land suddenly brought into context exactly what I had been listening to on his newest record, A Roda do Tempo. It is truly remarkable how well his music, and this record, captures his homeland.
Initially, I had felt it were sufficient to describe the Joy of Nature as traditional folk music—successful for sounding so great without running the risk that so many traditional folk projects run into: sounding like the next-best pub music for a commodified renaissance festival. However, I also found that as I tried to describe what I was listening to for the reader, it began to forge a life unto itself. The Joy of Nature is traditional folk music. There is nothing exceedingly unique about it. The closest music analogy would be Wardruna or Skuggsja in that they are conceptually similar, but in place of traditional Norse instrumentation and chants are a wide varieties of pipes, acoustic guitars, hurdy-gurdy, harmonica, and an array of drums and percussion. And while one conjures the harsh realities of nature, the other brings to mind meadows and sun-bathed forests. It may sound corny, but A Roda do Tempo has done such an excellent job of actually capturing its namesake that it cannot be ignored. When you couple the soundscapes created with the beauty of the Azores themselves, it is as if the music just makes sense. It is a sonic expression of the landscape that surrounds the creator.
All of that said, this is deeply meditative music and something that may not fit every occasion. It is very easy to get into, but also a subdued experience. It accompanies any outdoor experience perfectly, but not much else. And perhaps that is where the music is at its weakest. There are sixteen tracks totaling about sixty-five minutes. They all seem to follow the singular focus of evoking the majesty and tranquility of nature, which means the tracks are so similarly focused that they are difficult to tell apart upon early listens; it all risks blurring together, resulting in an album that is ultimately underwhelming. There are not enough changes in tempo and song structure to differ one track from the next. It is not that they all sound the same, but that they focus so much on one aesthetic aspect and theme that the album restricts itself. Yet, wherever Couto has chosen to focus his thematic attention, it succeeds without doubt. This is the record you want to listen to on your next excursion into the wild.
Choosing nature as a subject of musical expression is not by no means new, and just as it is with most things, success has varied widely from project to project. What makes the Joy of Nature so unique in this endeavor is that Luis Couto chose not just nature, but a very particular aspect of nature that was not immediately apparent until looking into the background of the project and its birthplace in the Azores. The Joy of Nature is not just about nature as a whole, but the verdant greens on rolling hills, the bright sunlight between the branches, the gentle caress of winds against the fields, and the silence of an isolated grotto. A Roda do Tempo may very well set a new standard for albums and projects choosing to make this specific aspect of nature their next musical canvas.
01) Pastores do Oceano Imenso
02) Para La do Rio do Esquecimento
03) As Ruinas sob o Sol do Fim de Verao
04) As Tres Moiras Encantadas
05) Divertimento do Mar
06) Ribeiras sem Nome
07) A Crianca Quese Abandonada
08) Ao Sol
09) Cancao de Amergin
10) Aldeias do Basalto
11) A Borboleta Voando no Vazio
12) Aguas Agitadas Passando Entre as Maos
13) Nascido da Lava Mal Fria
14) As Mangas do Meu Vestido Primaveril
15) Valsa do Trigo Queimado
16) Ilha ao Longe