Joy Guerrilla ‘The Park Is Closed’ LP/CD (Self-released) 5/5

There’s something about the words ‘The Park Is Closed’ from Los Angeles-based duo, Joy Guerrilla, for 2021 that inevitably leads you to the conclusion that this is a summation of the extraordinary events that have unfolded over the last year. As you’re reading these words, the world is – fingers crossed – finding itself potentially at the tail end of over twelve months which have been dominated by quarantining, social distancing, face masks and an excessive amount of Zoom-based conversations. Restaurants were certainly closed, bars, leisure centres, offices… and yes, even some parks!

Whether or not the impact of a global pandemic was in fact the inspiration on any level for ‘The Park Is Closed’, there are elements of this release – the album’s ‘Nightfall’ introduction as a key example – that really do root the compositions within something of a dystopian or ominous setting – a concept in stark contrast to this project’s predecessor, ‘Skyline’.

‘The Park Is Closed’ marks the third project from keyboardist Magdalena Daniec and bassist Adam Grab following ‘E.N.O.’ in 2015 and the aforementioned ‘Skyline’ in 2018. The enigmatic pairing has consistently delivered their genuinely inspired instrumental jazz-funk compositions which act as varying soundtracks to Los Angeles life – sometimes that soundtrack is presented as a love letter to their surroundings while other times it’s presented as a mirror offering a harsh reflection.

Whichever the lens though, the personality that really shines from these tracks is undeniable – the glossy, synth-inspired presentation of ‘Earthsuit’, the 1970s-esque funk of ‘Sowa’ and the track that served as the album’s lead single, ‘Million Dollar Neighborhood’, are all bliss. The brilliance of the somewhat introspective nature of the album’s title track, which closes the album out, also warrants special mention as an album highlight.

While Daniec and Grab are very much the stars here, the project is bolstered by an excellent supporting cast in drummer Tim Aristil, guitarist Elijah Zhang and horns by Les Lovitt (trumpet), Doug Webb (saxophone), John Grab (trombone), Anne Hauter (trumpet) and Snarky Puppy’s Mike Maher (trumpet).

A huge part of what makes Joy Guerrilla so exceptional is the genuine sincerity that comes through in their music – of course, Daniec and Grab are incredibly gifted musicians and producers but their charm lies within the fact that this is clearly the music that feels right to them to make and they really wouldn’t make it any other way.

Imran Mirza