Over the past couple of years, I’ve spilled quite a bit of virtual ink covering Milwaukee-born, Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, composer and JOVM mainstay Joe Wong. As a musician, Wong has had a lengthy career as a drummer with stints in NYC-based noise rock act Parts & Labor — and he’s toured with Mary Timony and Marnie Stern.
In the past handful of years, Wong has made a name for himself as prolific composer for TV and film, writing and recording scores for Master of None, Russian Doll, Ugly Delicious, Awkafina is Nora from Queens, The Midnight Gospel, To All The Boys and a lengthy list of others. Wong is also the host of the popular The Trap Set podcast.
Written in in the years between his father suffering a stroke in 2010 and his death in 2019, Wong’s critically applauded, Mary Timony-produced, full-length debut, 2020’s Nite Creatures featured 10 ruminative, baroque psych pop songs that thematically explored the intersection of melancholy and joyful surrender.
The JOVM mainstay’s highly-anticipated sophomore album Mere Survival is slated for a February 2, 2024 release. Written, performed and produced by Wong, Mere Survival expands upon the sonic palette of its predecessor by incorporating ethereal synthesizer and fuzzy electric guitars into the Scott Walker-like orchestral psychedelia that won him acclaim. Thematically, the new album is another journey into the netherworld of loss, grief and technological oblivion. Wong dives into the muck and finds awe and wonder, crafting ten bombastic songs that are a much-needed glimpse of hope in a desperate, uneasy and mad existence that often doesn’t make much sense.
Recoded at studios across the country including iconic, Hollywood-based Capitol Studios and Foo Fighters’ Studio 606, the album features an all-star cast of guests including Pearl Jam’s and Soundgarden‘s Matt Cameron, Foo Fighters‘ and Sunny Day Real Estate’s Nate Mendel, Beastie Boys‘ Money Mark, that dog.‘s Anna Waronker, Shudder to Think‘s Craig Wedren, Beck and R.E.M.‘s Joey Waronker, John Lennon‘s, George Harrison‘s, and Bob Dylan’s Jim Keltner and a 30-member orchestra.
Mere Survival’s first single, the Mary Timony-co-produced “Into Nothing” continues a remarkable run of cinematic and bombastic psych pop — but while featuring several different and distinct textures, beginning with a funky and propulsive bass line introduction before quickly morphing into Sgt. Pepper-like psychedelia, complete with soaring strings and big horns. There’s a big drum break from the legendary Matt Cameron before the song ends with a trippy horn and string-driven coda. But while the song is swooning, it manages to captures an overwhelming sensation of pessimism and despair.
“‘Into Nothing’ is about the futility of legacy building given the suicidal nature of our species,” Wong explains. “It resonates with a larger theme of the album–the same instincts that kept humanity alive for the majority of its existence are now leading us towards self annihilation.”