Joesef’s Permanent Damage – an emotional current which delves beyond love and lust ★★★★

Album artwork for Joesef's debut full-length project, Permanent Damage Joesef - Permanent Damage via AWAL Recordings

By Lauren Hunter (she/her)

Among Scotland’s recent musical exports, Joesef is undoubtedly set on a trajectory to stardom, having gradually gained prominence in the national and UK-wide scene over the past four years.

With his distinctive, soulful tone, Joesef’s previous EPs – Play Me Something Nice (2019) and Does It Make You Feel Good? (2020) – firmly established him as one to watch, meaning debut album Permanent Damage was hotly anticipated.

In the Garthamlock-born singer’s own words, the album is about “the collapse of a relationship from the inside out. It’s about fighting in the street on the way home, kissing in the taxi, having nothing to say in the morning, holding grief in your hands and carrying it with you indefinitely”, which is certainly evident in much of the staggeringly raw lyricism which has been crafted beautifully in Joesef’s usual masterful way.

But this description, in a sense, discredits the album by making it sounds like an Adele-esque maudlin heartbreaker. Instead, this seems to be a breakup record on Joesef’s terms – infused with soul, funk, rich orchestral sound, lo-fi beats and intimate acoustics.

Each of the thirteen tracks stand alone as powerful ruminations on love, relationships, and grief – both lyrically and musically – but when brought together can end up feeling a little jumbled and juxtaposing, which is a shame as some of the most technically impressive moments are lost to the listener’s attempts to process the multitude of different sounds being thrown at them over the course of its 45-minute span.

However, one of the album’s earliest standout moments comes with ‘East End Coast’, a song about desperately trying to salvage a relationship that is inevitably failing and mourning for the way things used to be. Joesef explains his yearning and loneliness in the line “Told you everything I know/Love me ‘til the weekend’s done/ Permanently on my own/I think I miss Glasgow”, exposing the sense that everyone knows, whether through a relationship or not, of being stuck somewhere you don’t want to be and trying to get back to what you knew before.

This cuts right through the album’s heart – at surface level, it’s another run-of-the-mill reflection on a breakup, but on a deeper scale, it evokes all the feelings of loss, change and confusion that life in your twenties forces you to grapple with. It’s this unspoken emotional current that is its greatest strength.

Another particularly special song is ‘Joe’. With a jarringly upbeat melody, its lyrical content reaches some of the darkest depths we see on Permanent Damage, through images such as “It’s a wreck and I’m drowning, been here all my life/I was 18 and screaming and feeling it all/Now I’m up on the edge of a bridge and I know”. Within ‘Joe’, the unconventional slips between genre, sound, and lyrics begin to make sense, even if at times prior to this on the album it isn’t necessarily that well executed. There’s something about the song’s bright, hopeful tune, contrasting to lines like “I don’t know what it takes to be happy” that is oddly liberating; Joesef’s exterior is clearly portraying a character very different from how he feels inside.

On this note, as the album reaches its conclusion with ‘All Good’, we return to the rich orchestral strings that it opens with. We’ve come in a circular narrative, back where we started. This is where the name Permanent Damage finds its meaning – the journey Joesef has taken us on is universal, inescapable and life-altering, no matter how confusing it may seem at times. And although it isn’t without its flaws, Permanent Damage marks Joesef as a stunning songwriter and musician upon which his success will only continue to build.

Joesef’s debut album Permanent Damage was released by AWAL Recordings on January 13th, 2023, check it out here.