The first I heard of Joseph was their single "White Flag". I loved the forthright cheerful defiance of it; I also loved the wonderful harmonies. A little research led me to _Native Dreamer Kin_, a debut album so beautiful and skilled I'm still surprised it's free. If MP3 files were made of vinyl, I'd have already worn through my copy.
So I was eager for their second album, _I'm Alone, No You're Not_. As the title implies, and as "White Flag" signals, _No You're Not_ is a more upbeat, aggressive album; the opening track, "Canyon", gets in your face (and your feet) from the opening words. Overall I think _No You're Not_ is terrific; it's recognizably Joseph, but reaches past what _Kin_ tries to do. Still, I'm having to warm up to it just a bit.
I love "White Flag". I love the sisters' harmonies. I didn't want (or expect) _Native Dreamer Kin Volume 2_. And tracks like "Honest" and "Planets" (both too short) are likely to be favorites years from now.
But in spots _No You're Not_ sounds overproduced and overcommercial. "SOS" in particular: On the verses the solo vocal has simple accompaniment led by Natalie's guitar (complete with string squeaks), but the chorus sounds like a generic pop dance mix; Wilson Phillips could have done it 25 years ago. All the power has been processed out of the backing vocals; I keep imagining the producer, Mike Mogis, cackling "I has a reverb!" (The live acoustic version you can find on OPBMusic.org is much more appealing.) "Whirlwind" suffers more, with even the lead vocal echoing wildly and a distracting "wah-wah" effect overall. Joseph's strength, their uniqueness, lies in their skilled and utterly fearless vocals, their intimate and complex harmonies, and these tracks undermine that strength.
"Hundred Ways", on the other hand, starts off as simply as any Joseph song can, and builds beautifully. It climaxes with lots of strings and percussion and overdubbed vocals, but the sisters always come through clearly. "Planets" is even simpler, more like tracks on _Kin_. On "Sweet Dreams" the strings sound like a fourth voice, using the same sort of harmony the sisters themselves develop. The elegantly restrained piano on "More Alive Than Dead" adds a layer to Joseph's vocals without distracting from them (if only I could say the same for the wind sounds).
And "Honest", from which the album lifts its title, is as fine a song as Joseph has done. Its lyrics have some of the tone of "optimistic melancholy" that made _Kin_ so appealing, but a stronger accompaniment for the powerful vocals.
Joseph's second album is broader and more experimental, and a couple of the experiments fail. But the sisters' devastating harmonies, if anything, have grown more expansive and lively. If you're looking for _Native Dreamer Kin Volume 2_, then download "Honest" and "Planets" and maybe a couple of others. But if you want to hear Joseph expand their reach, get _I'm Alone, No You're Not_. I'm going to be finding new layers in this album for quite some time.