Joy Guerrilla is the Los Angeles-based duo Magdalena Daniec and Adam Grab. The Park Is Closed is their second full length album after Skyline (2018) which followed their debut EP E.N.O. (2015). The Park is Closed is a fun, funky trip with a great warm weather West Coast vibe. For me, it hits a sweet spot of classic funk fusion brought forward to today.
This is how Joy Guerilla recounted the origin of the band, “We met in the Bay Area of California. Mags’ was actually Adam’s piano teacher for a short time. We quickly realized we shared a lot of common interests in musical tastes and passion for vintage keyboards. For a long time we would busk on the street in the Bay Area, but instead of acoustic performances we would ask nicely for local businesses to let us run an extension cord. People seemed to really like seeing a full band busking on the street (at least until the cops came and shut it down). We took that idea on the road by buying an old mini-bus, outfitting it with solar panels, batteries and an inverter, and doing a busking tour. We would set up and busk directly out of the bus, and use those street sets as promotion for the shows that same night. The hustling bus days definitely had their highs and lows, but we learned a lot from those times. ”
The group completed this album in the midst of the pandemic in their own apartment, but you’d never know it from the cohesiveness of the recordings. The duo explained it this way, “Fortunately a lot of the collaborative work on this was done right before the lockdown started. In fact, in terms of tracking and overdubbing we were essentially done by early 2020. However, we were faced with two choices; stick to the original release schedule (April/May 2020) with everyone being overwhelmed with content and flooded with online releases, or take advantage of the “pause” and really tinker with the presentation and mixing until we felt most proud of it. We decided to go with the latter, and because of this most of our pandemic time was spent making sure nothing was being overlooked. We would say that was one positive of the pandemic. ”
There’s a fine roster of complementary musicians contributing to the uniqueness of each song . Background on the songs is provided by Joy Guerrilla and included in the blue boxes accompanying my track-by-track coverage that follows.
“Skyline” came together as we were hammering out song ideas we had been working on, but it sort of fell into place as the “brighter” sounding album, compared to this one. With “The Park Is Closed” we were working with a specific tone and mood in mind, and setting our intentions did really help with shaping the final album, as opposed to just “seeing what happens.” We also invested a lot more time into making sure we were happy with the final mixes (thanks to Julian Nicholson for all of the guidance and help), and we hope that comes through.
Intro is a cool stage setter for the rest of the album featuring some tender piano + percussion, then joined by some ominous synth that alternately sounds like a truck or drone. I’m intrigued.
The last light disappears behind the canopy. An electric pastorale begins to emerge…
(Vangelis/Tomita, lush and atmospheric, 100 bpm)
Earthsuit has some space pinging tones at the beginning before hitting the main groove with drum and bass rhythm. When the main synth melody comes in, it reminds me a little of of The Blackbyrds, Rock Creek Park classic. There’s great layering effects here and midway there’s a transition to a muted trumpet solo from Snarky Puppy’s Mike ‘Maz’ Maher, that solidly hits the mark, of course. This one’s a very danceable space groove.
It’s the only one we’ve got, the exogenous defense against the elements on spaceship Earth. Gotta keep it moving. Trumpet solo from Mike “Maz” Maher of Snarky Puppy.
(old-schoolhouse, synth-boogie, 118 bpm)
Sowa features a well conceived synth groove opening and some excellent backing horns. Les Lovitt takes an early flugelhorn solo followed by a turn from Doug Webb on soprano sax. The synth that follows mimics soprano sax to some extent. Although the tone is somewhat contemplative, it feels upbeat to me on the whole.
Sowa is Polish for “owl” (pronounced “soh-vah”). A bit on the nose given the album art, but there was a huge Great Horned Owl living in the tree outside of Mags’ parent’s house for a time. It was the enforcer of the neighborhood. We named it Sowa and would go see it sleeping every morning.
The crisp night air, unobstructed by the sounds of modernity, would seemingly reveal all. Yet the silent flight is undetected as our hero descends. Soprano saxophone solo by Doug Webb.
(70’s jazz fusion, live-band feel, 120 bpm)
No Late Fees starts very funky with some excellent bass work from Adam Grab and they synths roll with some very catchy licks. There’s an excellent bluesy guitar solo midway from Elijah Zhang. It’s a nice feel with a horn refrain over the top of the multiple synths fading to a piano only closeout.
Hey, listen…it’s the absolute least we can do. Seriously, don’t worry about it. We’ll just make sure to tack it on to the next bill. Guitar solo from Elijah Zhang, modulates to groove in 5 for the outro.
(Herbie/P-Funk energy, horn section, 109 bpm)
fees.waived feels like a fade in from No Late Fees reaching a peak with some every electronic synth with multitracking and several layers. It transitions to a lower volume, more distant sound of the head.
See? Just like we said, we cut you some slack. We’ve got your back! While we’ve got your ear, here’s a one-time offer we want to lay on you. If you act now…
(West Coast beats, Wansel meets DJ Quik, 82 bpm)
The Great Stress is a great fusion tune with an opening circular guitar/base pattern before the horns + synth mash. This tune has a real Snarky Puppy feel with some Crusaders mixed in. The drum, bass, keys feels brings back memories of Stix, Wilton and Joe Sample. The final vocals are a surprise with a darker sentiment.
Apparently, chameleons will die if they experience too much stress. Perhaps it has to do with constantly trying to blend in? Remember that to settle is ultimately self-sabotage.
(controlled-chaos groove, Rhodes-laden, 94 bpm)
Million Dollar Neighborhood definitely has a West Coast acid jazz groove feel. I could see Kamaal Williams or Adrian Younge appreciating this one. Midway there’s a bright piano line, that changes to a Ronnie Laws Every Generation kind of feel. The track is quite strong which is perhaps why the multiple changes keep me guessing on the next direction.
It isn’t necessarily a place, but a frame of mind. With the right lens, you can see it any where and everywhere. Ultimately, you should feel like a million bucks. Sax solo from Doug Webb.
(down-tempo funk a la Nard, electro-beat outro,76 bpm)
The Park Is Closed starts with some crickets + E.T. tones. It is evocative of a warm sunset over some nice greenspace – time to chill and see what the evening will bring. There’s a muted fade bridge with some mind-stimulating synth before a final minute of outro fades in to bookend the album.
When you’ve finally managed to escape the monotony and can get a break from all the right angles, it eventually hits you that even the wooded expanse has a curfew.
(lo-fi, wurly and pads, dreamy incursions of frenetic drum-and-bass,71 bpm)
Buy the Album Here ➨
Written, arranged, and produced by Magdalena Daniec and Adam Grab.
Associate produced by Julian Nicholson.
Magdalena Daniec – keyboards
Adam Grab – bass, synth bass, percussion, guitar
Tim Aristil – drums, percussion
Elijah Zhang – guitar
Doug Webb – saxophone
Les Lovitt – trumpet
Anne Hauter – trumpet
John Grab – trombone
Mike ‘Maz’ Maher – trumpet solo on “Earthsuit”
Tony Fulton – vocals on “The Great Stress”
Recorded at our apartment in Los Angeles, CA.
Horns and guitar recorded at Route 2 Studios in Glassell Park. Engineering by Zak Mouton.
Mixing by Julian Nicholson and Adam Grab.
Mixing assistance from Brian Starley at Bergatron Music and Saif Bari at Fixed Mastering.
Mastered by Saif Bari at Fixed Mastering in Los Angeles, CA.
Album artwork by Adam Grab.
Art Direction by Saddiq Abbubakar.