Every year, a few artists emerge on the scene who completely bowl people over with unforgettable voices and styles that simultaneously feel retro yet fresh. JOSEPH OF MERCURY, the moniker of Joseph W. Salusbury, is one such artist. The Toronto-based singer-songwriter is a throwback to a time when ballads were heartfelt stories and not just songs. Back to a time when an artist’s most powerful instrument was his voice and when style matched substance. His eponymous debut EP reveals why Apple Music named him their Artist of the Week because JOSEPH OF MERCURY is one of the most enrapturing records of the year.
Like only the great records can do, each of the EP’s six songs evokes the names of past and present greats. The opener, “Do You Remember”, is a sensual and gripping number echoes Let’s Dance-era David Bowie with its swirling synths and funky bass line. Salusbury’s voice also pierces with the urgency of Bowie in his prime, and his songwriting has an ’80s cinema quality.
I’ve been far away.
Give me reasons I should say.
Do you remember when we were trying?
I want to go back, I want to go back.”
Roy Orbison is heard on “Without Words”, which is one of the most gorgeous songs of the year. The song is flush with beautiful vignettes that will have even the hardest heart fluttering, and Salusbury’s vocals have the same endearing quality of The Big O. For those planning a wedding, this is the song for you.
The grace of Elvis Presley reverberates throughout “Angel”. As the organ-like keys commence, the song takes on a hymnal quality and a fleeting feeling envelops the listener. Then JOSEPH OF MERCURY’s stunning, crooner-like voice arrives, and a whole new level of spirituality is experienced. His sermon is endearing and uplifting, as he recounts the life of a person who inspired him and how this “Angel” made him appreciate life for all its offerings. “I could never live in the world that didn’t have angels, and you were an Angel”, he cries out.
A flash of the present is viewed on “Tarot”, which echoes a dark and suspenseful version of Future Islands. As the hallow synths and beats stutter in the background, Salusbury’s voice takes on a creepy vibe. The story, too, is a suspenseful one, as he recounts one man’s insatiable desire to be with someone. “The gods said that we would be lovers”, he calmly sings. While there was something between the two people, the feeling has dissipated for one and now she has become the hunted.
Bowie is once again the inspiration on the stunning “Find You Inside”. The sizzling synths and the sleek guitar create an ’80s atmosphere, which provides the perfect canvas for JOSEPH OF MERCURY’s incomparable, buoyant vocals. The combination yields a song that can only be considered an instant classic. His songwriting further takes the song to another level, as he crafts a story that is one part want and lust and another part self-exploration.
The EP comes to a close with “Young Thing”. A haunting and gripping vibe consumes the song, as the keys are stretched out. Salusbury’s voice, meanwhile, is restrained to almost a whisper-like, seductive quality. A creepiness, consequently, is felt in the song, which is further accentuated by Salusbury taking on the role of an obsessed lover or maybe he’s a stalker. “You’re my favorite young thing”, he repeats in an anguished and desperate tone. It’s an unexpected number to close the record, but the song also displays the creative and vocal range of this rising star.
And a star JOSEPH OF MERCURY will one day become. With a memorable voice and a gift for storytelling, it is inevitable that Salusbury will be mentioned in the same breaths as many of the legends he channels on his debut EP. For now, he’s Canada secret, and one the country should embrace before the rest of the world discovers him.
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