When I was in middle school, Foster the People released “Pumped up Kicks.” What a bop! The song rocked the gymnasium – I don’t remember a dance in middle school that didn’t include the entirety of a gym full of young, nervous, weird middle schoolers getting loose to “Pumped Up Kicks.”
Of course, growing up, “Pumped Up Kicks” became just as famous for its content as its jamming beat. The song’s written from the point of view of a school shooter, a pattern of behavior already rampant in 2011, and yet to be addressed in any meaningful fashion. “Pumped Up Kicks” was the first song I remember that sat in the space that Mt. Joy currently sits embrace – heartbreaking lyrics packaged in a song that can’t stop making me dance.
Mt. Joy’s new album, Rearrange Us, will be released on June 5, and the band has released seven songs from the full-length album, starting with “Every Holiday” in the winter, and most recently with “Death.”
The songs so far pick up where their jamming, yet stirring, self-titled left off. There are songs like “Every Holiday” that make you want to stare out the window in a rainstorm, alongside tracks like “Let Loose and “My Vibe”, that feel like driving on the highway with your best friends towards the party of the weekend.
Lead singer Matt Quinn said the album is “about finding ways to work past one’s emotional and mental struggles with intentionality.” So far, two of these songs do that best, but they do it while making me dance in a towel on an imaginary dance floor.
Musically, “Death” and “Strangers”, give off a vibe best described as sitting with your best friends late into the evening feeling immortal. I can’t stop playing these songs, and I certainly can’t stop dancing to them. Each song carries enormous, respective tragedy – each song, in its lyrics, carries the doubt of the folks nodding their heads along to the beat. Each for different reasons.
“Death” best embodies the doubt we feel when somebody we hope, think, or even know is a close friend, makes a joke at our expense, or the fear we feel when we see a photo of our friends together without us.
Are they having more fun because I’m not there? Are they avoiding me on purpose? Am I not enough? “Death” gives insight into that very anxiety: the fear that we shouldn’t be appreciated, that maybe we shouldn’t be here, that we don’t fundamentally deserve the relationships we’ve built or the accolades we’ve won.
“Don’t bring your phone to the party…feel like you’re just passing through/but everyone I know loves you,” they sing in the second verse.
Those lines remind me of one of my favorite scenes in New Girl, when the titular character Jess grabs her friend and future (and former) love interest Nick Miller and shouts, in a moment of his infinite self-doubt, “Stop it, Nick! I’m tired of you being the only person who doesn’t see how incredible you are.”
This song reflects that moment we’ve all had with a friend. The song emphasizes how hard it can be to find your way out of self-doubt while staring into the void of death, maybe just thinking about how much easier it’d be to be isolated. But it wouldn’t be. We need each other, and in “Death”, Mt. Joy tells the tale of someone we’ve all been: scared, and in need of a little reassurance from our friends.
“Strangers”, however, is a song about heartbreak. It’s not the immediate night of reckoning with a partner you loved. It’s not the devastating months afterwards spent listening to sad music to deal with the tragedy of parting. “Strangers” feels like the ending of Doctor Strange (spoiler alert), when Dr. Stephen Strange, having become the sorcerer supreme, approaches the evil entity Dormammu over and over and over and over and over again, ad infinitum, saying “I’ve come to bargain.”
The upbeat tempo pairs with a chorus that says “I am over you” repeatedly. It feels like those first few weeks after getting dumped. Those moments calling your family, saying you’re okay, seeming just a bit too upbeat. Those days telling your friends that one day, someday soon, that relationship will bloom once again, that the person who left will call, re-emerging out of the blue, to re-ignite things. It all feels like a sleight of hand.
“And I did not want our love to be erased/But lord knows we chased it, love just rearranged us,” the band sings in the second verse. “I’m everything I thought I was, even if I don’t have much/My blue side, my fire eyes, my heart keeps me in the fight.”
This songs a fight. It’s a bargain. It’s shadow boxing in the mirror on a long, hard night. It’s trying to find yourself amidst heartbreak; arguing with yourself that everything is fine, that everything will always be fine. The tragedy of “Strangers”, much like “Death”, lays both in its deception and in its depth. We all know how it feels to be falling towards sadness. We all know how it feels to feel left out. It’s not that Mt. Joy makes me feel alone; it’s that they make me want to dance while I feel alone.
“Learn to laugh when you cry/make a rainbow in your mind,” Mt. Joy sings in the third verse of “Death,” advising the subject of the song to find the best in the hardest situations.
That’s what makes these songs so impactful – it’s not that they make me want to dance with my friends while tears fall down my cheeks, but, rather, that they lend hope to the hopeless.
“My heart keeps me in the fight,” they sing. “Make a rainbow in your mind.”
Even on their first album, they released songs like “Cardinal”, with one of my favorite Mt. Joy lyrics to date: “And whatever you’re supposed to be/Whatever that’s supposed to mean/I just wanted you to know/That you don’t have to come clean to me.”
Sometimes, the best we can do is being there, not forcing our friends to come clean to us, not forcing even ourselves to come clean to ourselves. We need a friend to tell us that we’re incredible when we don’t believe it, or a few weeks playing video games telling ourselves we’re over it when we’re really not. Mt. Joy captures the beauty in melancholy, the rare silver linings in the clouds of life that make those moments worth looking back on with a tiny grin, even if we know how much it hurt.