Portland, Oregon trio Joseph, comprised of three sisters (Allison, Meegan, and Natalie Closner) who grew up in the state, released its sophomore album, I’m Alone, No You’re Not, on August 26, 2016. The three sing together on the record, backed by artfully produced pop. The Closners’ voices fit together so naturally that it sounds like the three have been singing together since childhood, though they only began in earnest after the 2014 release of Joseph’s (then Dearborn) debut album, Native Dreamer Kin.
In fact, the band went through a wholesale overhaul between Native Dreamer Kin and I’m Alone, No You’re Not. Younger sisters Allison and Meegan took on larger roles. The two had originally focused on backing vocals, but now they sing together with Natalie. They have also begun to take a larger part in writing the music. The sisters refer to “Honest” as the album’s keystone. As Natalie explains, “We were trying really hard to write a song, but nothing was coming. One night, Meegan was working on some lyrics and getting frustrated, so she wrote in the margin of the page, ‘I can’t say a true thing. It’s hard to be that honest.’ Immediately after that, her most honest sentence spilled out—‘There’s always two thoughts, one after the other: I’m alone. No, you’re not.’ And she thought, ‘Oh, there’s the song.’” There is an elegance in the story’s simplicity, and the song matches it with its straightforward and honest refrain.
Single “White Flag” is another standout track with an interesting backstory. The song was inspired by, to quote the band’s press release, “an article predicting a massive earthquake for the Pacific Northwest.” (The press release does not name the article, but for the curious, my money is on Kathryn Schulz’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Really Big One.”) What makes that background interesting, however, is that the three women took the fear the article created and transformed it into something beautiful. Natalie, again from the press release, explains, “It became clear we had two options: be scared and cowering, backing away from the world into paralysis, or keep moving and live…. Find better ways to love the people in our lives instead of huddling together like frightened sheep thinking about earthquakes.”
I’m Alone, No You’re Not finds Joseph reaching into personal depths to incorporate a staggering amount of emotional honesty into the band’s music. The record is a triumph as both a personal expression and a listening experience.