“Uh Huh” is a protest song, during a protest year, during a baffling era.
The lead instrumentation—John Paul Carillo’s bass and guitar; Chris Olsen’s drums and percussion—alternates between harrowing restraint and thumping outcry. Anna Meadors plays the song’s dirge on her alto saxophone; the song, then, absorbs the universal lamentations of people who’ve been deprived of other people. When all four of us participate at once, including the howling vocals, there is a variety of madness that we could call liberation, or honesty. Listeners will be rewarded again and again by the virtuosity of the musicians. The outro, in particular, estimates the emotional quandary of marching forward, despite a societal environment that cannot remediate its own destructiveness.
“Uh Huh” refers to brothers in the universal sense: close and distant family, comrades, colleagues. We are protesting an inexcusable societal blight like gun crimes, on the one hand, but many protests can be echo-located in “Uh Huh.” (What’s your protest?) In the lyrics, a gun is pointed at an unarmed person. This fundamental inequality can transfer from one situation to another. You’re powerless at a crucial moment, you fear for your life, you lack a basic resource. You struggle to envision a future, uh huh.
The artists who created the video—Gabriela Bulisova and Mark Isaac—have stamped their narrative on the song. By turns eerie, disturbing, and deeply righteous, the video commences with the thermal imagery of headless bodies trudging toward a blank destination, at an orderly pace, their backs to the viewer. Without being told, we know that many of them are doomed. There is a gun-scope encircling a partial portrait, and an incongruous flag unfurling, and a litter of human shapes strewn upon a stained ecosystem that’s struggling, itself, to persevere.
“De voi depinde,” said the poet Paul Celan: “It’s up to you.” What he meant was: the individual really matters. By design, the band does not appear. Our faces don’t outweigh the importance of the protest. What will our brothers be singing? What will our, what will our brothers be singing? If we deaden ourselves to loss, we’ll never challenge the status quo.
Play this song loud. Expect punk-jazz. Topple the establishment.
Joy on Fire is
John Paul Carillo (bass, guitar)
Anna Meadors (baritone and alto saxophones, vocals)
Chris Olsen (drums, percussion)
Dan Gutstein (lyrics, vocals)
“Uh Huh” composed by Carillo / Gutstein / Joy on Fire (2020)
Joy on Fireformed in Baltimore 12 years ago and is currently headquartered in Trenton, N.J. Featured last year on NPR's All Songs Considered, the band is scheduled to play a Tiny Desk Concert in July. Its most recent release is the Thunderdome EP, which features "Uh Huh," and is available on vinyl only at the Joy on Fire website. Maryland label Procrastination Records will release the band's next full length album, Hymn, in June. States of America, the band's first full length album with vocals, and which will also include "Uh Huh," is currently being mixed with release plans to be decided.
Video and band photograph by Gabriela Bulisova and Mark Isaac (2020).