Joel Stoker – The Undertow
The debut solo album for The Rifles frontman Joel Stoker, The Undertow, is an unexpectedly tender outing for the indie-rock mainstay.
It opens with the gradual build of an acoustic guitar in the introspective Walls Fall, which sets the thematic tone for the rest of the record, examining Stoker’s own doubts and anxieties, but moving forward just the same: “And the war is won when the beat goes on.”
My Own War, the album’s first single, is undoubtedly the biggest track. It’s a tight arrangement that immediately leaves you enveloped in a toe-tap-inducing drumbeat, with bright, blaring horns that are laid amidst some dynamic vocals and cutting lyrics: “I play superior, but only for the show / I feel inferior with nowhere to go, and it’s cutting me down to the bone.”
There are shades of Dexys Midnight Runners in Down at the Undertow, an upbeat, energetic number that features a particularly bouncy violin turn. Stoker changes the pace with The Valley, which opens as a folksy acoustic piece and slowly builds into a foot-stomping, fiddle-inflected Americana ballad. It’s simple, but affecting, and just goes to show you that an honest, stripped-back acoustic guitar rhythm is sometimes all that you need.
The Undertow is an interesting turning point for the indie rock veteran, with Stoker here shedding the guitar-band persona in place for a solo debut that’s more heartfelt than fans of The Rifles might have expected. Indie guitar riffs are subbed out for piano-filled ballads, brass-blasted openers and softer, more purposeful vocals. that are more lyrically driven than ever. It is a surprising turn, and makes for a mature, well-realised debut album.
Image: Patrick Ford
The Undertow is released on 1st September 2023. For further information or to order the album visit Joel Stoker’s website here.
Watch the video for the single My Own War here: