Josef Salvat’s sophomore album modern anxiety is one that rewards repeat listens. I write this as someone who initially didn’t really rate it highly. Sure, several of the singles really hit their mark, but on first listen the album as a whole didn’t work for me. Yet, further listens, and closer listens, reveal an album that is more nuanced, more textured, and more interesting than I gave it credit.
Many artists struggle with the dreaded second album. On the face of it, you’d be forgiven for thinking that modern anxiety was plain sailing for the London-based Sydney singer. Yet, the album’s confidence, swagger, and polish belie the turbulence of those inter-album years. The success of his debut Night Swim, brought its own unique complications. So he took some time off, and threw himself into life. modern anxiety has been described by Salvat as, “a series of postcards, snapshots of my life”. The album, an exploration of modern life and societal pressures, is born out of lived experience and self reflection.
Certainly, there are several songs on the album that feel deeply personal. “paper moons”, for examples, draws upon his experience helping a friend who was struggling with addiction. It’s a powerful and provocative track, and explores the struggle of trying to help someone seemingly unable to help themselves: “You keep on asking me to save you but it never works”. Yet, amidst the seriousness of the subject matter, there is a sleekness and ‘uplifting’ quality to the music.
That’s true of the much of the album. Salvat has managed to find that balance between the light and the dark of life. Often beneath that beautiful slick synth pop veneer, there’s a darkness, emotionality and a vulnerability waiting to be found. They’re songs to make you think, and at the same time, songs you can lose yourself to on the dance floor. In fact, that’s pretty much Salvat’s mission statement: “I don’t distinguish between listening to music to feel seen or to dance, you can do both. I need songs. I want brilliant fucking songs.”
modern anxiety is full of highlights. Amongst my favourites are “in the afternoon”, “no vacancies” and title track “modern anxiety”. “in the afternoon”, in particular, is a real delight, a song so full of warmth and positivity. Occasionally, there are moments where the album feels stuck in a holding pattern. But, every album is going to have its own ebb and flow. Over subsequent listens, I have come to appreciate certain tracks with each further listen. Admittedly, I don’t listen to a huge amount of “pop” in the strictest sense. But, one of the thing’s that set modern anxiety apart for me, is Salvat’s vocals. There’s a texture and quality to them, that really helps these songs shine. The production works with them too, with the two elements working in tandem. I suppose that’s the beauty of being so hands on through the whole process.
With modern anxiety Salvat has successfully navigated the tricky sophomore album. Sleek, polished and often eminently danceable, modern anxiety, is an album with hidden depths. One which neatly balances light and dark, bops and emotional lyricism and rewards repeated listens.