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Syntax Issue 10
Denver Syntax


There is something about Joshua Novakís guitar alone that says so much about him.

When Novak was a kid, his father bought him a six string. It was a right-handed guitar. Novak was left handed. Instead of flipping the guitar over and stringing it regularly Ė he simply kept the same strings in the same places and as a result, the beautiful truth is that: Joshua Novak plays the guitar upside down.

Under the lights, Joshua Novak has one of the largest presences in this town. Novak is neither tall nor rotund, but he fills every stage he is on with an overwhelming glow that is impossible to miss. But talk with him in-person, about who he is and what the Joshua Novak act is about, and Iím certain that you will uncover a completely different person.

While silence may mince some of his words when talk turns to him and his life, Novakís music does not. What is apparent about Joshua Novak, in timbre and action, is that music may be the only thing that matters this much. So much that youíre willing to stake your life on it and lose the back-up plan netting altogether. Music may matter so much that other pursuits have not the vibrancy in flavor, or ability to stir the passions that music has. Visibly or invisibly.

Joshua Novak is the bandís name in which he plays. However, Novak is quick to point out that itís not his band. Itís their band (Joshua Novak, vocals, guitars, piano, Casio, percussion; John Rasmussen, bass; Kit Peltzel, drums, samples, percussion; Nathan Meese, electric guitar, keys, backing vox). Everybody gets paid evenly. Everybody contributes. Even though its Novakís name that is on everything, there is a strong sense of commonality, support and four boys standing together.

On stage and Joshua Novak is the magnet for the eyes. His stance alone commands attention. His sway of the hips, his gesticulations and vocal inflections are, often, of mammoth proportions. But off stage and Novak is oftentimes quiet. A smile typically adorns his face. He doesnít seem concerned with talking about his life, and what he ate for dinner tonight.

Joshua Novak doesnít play his guitar behind his head, nor with his teeth. But he does play it upside down. Stand in a room with musicians unfamiliar with Novak while he is on the stage and youíre certain to see some peculiar looks. At first, he looks like Kurt Cobain playing a right-handed guitar: As some sort of pomp and circumstance circus. But when you see the looks linger a bit longer, and once they realize that every chord Novak is playing is upside down, smiles resonate, intrigue is piqued.

Joshua Novak writes small novels called albums. The Five Day Romance reads like you might expect. But then, it doesnít. Itís not about five linear days. And itís not about one of Novakís hot romances. Itís a sketch of humanity, the life that Novak has witnessed around him. And just like his experimental EP, Novakís new work, Dead Letters, are caricatures of the world around him Ė a world of incompleteness, inconspicuous influence and a jostling of like images that form the appearance of wholes.

In total, Joshua Novak comes in parts. Admittedly, he is still seeking a more-true representation of himself. And in writing about others it seems that Novak is looking for, as well locating, himself. And Dead Letters may just be that attempt which pushes him that much closer to standing next to himself in the supermarket. The album is ambitious - as it should be, Denver has been waiting for this album for nearly five years. Dead Letters employs a pointed pen of dense vocal melodies which are dreamy and astringent, filled with the bubble gum pain of a lifelong hangover. In his vocals alone, love and longing are in never-ending conflict with the painted hope of childhoodís gaming hymns. The arrangements reflect a more-mature Novak and band and while the compositions cover a relatively vast ground, they never stray from the sound that Novak and crew have been honing for the last several years. In all, Dead Letters is unmistakably Joshua Novak and to that end, there is no higher compliment.

As he once did at Elitches amusement park, Novak is still drawing caricatures. Sketches that are both sonic and conceptual. In his invisible notebook, Novak has a drawing of the traditional image of the songwriter. Flip the page over and in reverse relief, you will begin to see what Joshua Novak thinks a songwriter should look like; what Novak himself looks like. This is the portrait of the songwriter as working in simplicity, not forcing pieces; and just doing what you do, observing, cataloging what you witness and like a good meal, waiting for it to come out of you.

Somehow, on stage, Joshua Novak is a physical representation of everything inside. He is strong, not over thinking, moving with an inherent effortlessness that feels more like watching a human being breath more than anything else. In that, there is a motion picture of a man and band working in earnest, with honesty; and, if you listen close enough you will not only hear romantic songs that meditate on the waters of life, you will also hear a drive train pulling forward, in and out of the stations of life and towards the heated lights of every possible success set forth in their future.

When youíre ready to be bowled-over and knocked drunk into love, find Joshua Novak at a venue near you: www.myspace.com/joshuanovak.