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Music / Joy Electric

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I'll make your dreams come true / with my monosynth.

"At its best, Joy E has always been about very straightforward melodic pop songs with an artistic element. I’ve struggled in one sense because although I love pop songs, I also love early electronic music, which to me is about using very raw, minimal textures that don’t necessarily go well with those more euphoric style pop songs I tend to sometimes write for Joy E."
Ronnie Martin, in a 2011 interview with Devon Kretzin

Joy Electric is a Christian Synth-Pop project from California, formed by Ronnie Martin in 1994. Although Ronnie has collaborated with various musicians in the past, it has, for the majority of its existence, remained his solo project.

JE's origins lay in the late-80s collaboration between Ronnie, his brother Jason, and their friend Randi Lamb: a band they named Morella's Forest.note  They recorded one album of goth-influenced new wave, which got indefinitely shelved when Narrowpath Records, the label set to release it, went out of business.note  Randi then departed, and the duo of Ronnie and Jason pivoted to incorporate more techno and rave sounds into their music, eventually signing to the fledgling Blonde Vinyl Records under the new name Dance House Children. Jason left to start his own rock band, and Ronnie shifted from rave music to pop, changing the name of the project to signal the transition (and moving to Tooth & Nail Records after Blonde Vinyl died).

Joy Electric continued changing, minimizing their sound in pursuit of Ronnie's ideals of analog musical purity. We Are the Music Makers saw Ronnie eschew the samplers and drum machines of his prior albums, making music purely with synthesizers. On Robot Rock he ditched his digital synthesizers and performed exclusively on analogue synths. Then The White Songbook and subsequent albums saw Ronnie stripping the sound down even further, recording entire albums on a single synthesizer (initially a Roland System 100, later a Moog Voyager). The instruments may have been minimal, but the music wasn't: The White Songbook in particular featured JE's densest instrumental arrangements, and The Otherly Opus went crazy with vocal arrangements.

In 2010, Ronnie moved to Ohio, got a day job as a worship arts pastor, and then became the pastor of another church. At the time, he had big plans for his music: to retool Joy Electric as a poppier band (and start using chords again), while simultaneously delving further into the sounds of early electronic music under the new moniker Said Fantasy. Unfortunately for music fans, Ronnie's responsibilities as a pastor have prevented him from devoting as much time to new music. The first album of the new sound, 2012's Dwarf Mountain Alphabet, might also be the last Joy Electric album, ever. And Said Fantasy's first album was scheduled for "early 2014", but didn't actually see the light of day until 2017. In 2021, Ronnie teased on Twitter that he's recording new music, for a "debut solo album" apparently unrelated to Joy Electric or Said Fantasy.


Morella's Forest

  • Tales (recorded 1988, released 2021)

Dance House Children

  • Songs & Stories (1991)
  • Jesus (1992)
  • Rainbow Rider: Beautiful Dazzling Music No. 1 (1993)

Joy Electric

  • Melody (1994)
    • Five Stars For Failure EP (1995)
  • We Are The Music Makers (1996)
    • Old Wives Tales EP (1996)
  • Robot Rock (1997)
    • The Land Of Misfits EP (1998)
  • CHRISTIANsongs (1999)
  • Unelectric (2000)
  • The White Songbook (2001)
    • Starcadia EP (2002)
  • The Tick Tock Treasury (2003)
    • The Tick Tock Companion EP (2003)
  • The Magic Of Christmas (2003)
  • Hello, Mannequin (2004)
    • Friend Of Mannequin EP (2004)
    • Workmanship EP (2005)
  • The Ministry Of Archers (2005)
    • Montgolfier And The Romantic Balloons EP (2005)
  • The Otherly Opus (2007)
    • Their Variables EP (2007)
  • My Grandfather, The Cubist (2008)
    • Early Cubism EP (2009)
    • Curiosities And Such EP (2009)
  • Favorites At Play (2009)
  • Dwarf Mountain Alphabet (2012)

Said Fantasy

  • Horse of Faded Grandeur single (2010)
  • Chariot of God: Electronic Compositions I–VII (2017)
  • Carols Gloria EP (2017)
  • Chorus Noel EP (2018)

Side Projects

  • Shepherd: Committing to Tape (2003) Acoustic rock.
  • The Brothers Martin: The Brothers Martin (2007) A mix of modern rock, new wave, and synth-pop. Ronnie's first collaboration with Jason Martin since the Dance House Children days.
  • The Foxglove Hunt: Stop Heartbeat (2008) New wave. A collaboration with Rob Witham from Fine China.
  • Ronald of Orange: Brush Away the Cobwebs (2009) Acoustic-synth-pop.
  • The Foxglove Hunt: Built My Fortress EP (2009)
  • PQMQ. Workshop: Birds of North America (2016) Ambient retro electronic, with field recordings of birdsongs. Collaboration with Jacob Graham, David Barnhart, Jon Sonnenberg, William Simkin and Joseph Andreotti.

Tropes associated with Joy Electric:

  • all lowercase letters: The White Songbook's liner notes.
  • Animated Music Video: "Song For All Time" and "Quiet Quieter Than Spiders".
  • Band of Relatives: Ronnie's wife played some on the album Favorites at Play. Morella's Forest, Dance House Children, and The Brothers Martin featured Ronnie's brother Jason. Said Fantasy featured his daughter Beth on the "Horse of Faded Grandeur" single.
  • Berserk Button: Comparing JE's vintage synthesized sound to old school video game music pisses off Ronnie and his fans.
  • Boléro Effect: The instrumental buildups in the title tracks to "The White Songbook" & "Starcadia".
  • Book Ends:
    • The Tick Tock Treasury opens with the title track, and ends with "Tick Tock Goes the Melody", which is an instrumental reprise of the song.
    • The Morella's Forest album Tales begins with a song about Charity, and ends with a song about cherry trees.
  • Christian Rock: While Joy Electric's lyrics are mostly abstract with few obvious references to Christianity, he's always been upfront about his faith in interviews, and he wrote the album CHRISTIANsongs specifically so people would stop asking, "So, is Joy Electric a Christian band?" Ronnie himself is also worship arts pastor.
  • Christmas Songs: The Magic of Christmas is a bunch of Christmas song covers. Ditto the Said Fantasy EPs Carols Gloria and Chorus Noel. Ronnie also did a cover of "Mrs. Santa Claus" for the Tooth & Nail compilation Happy Christmas Vol. 3, which hasn't appeared anywhere else.
  • Concept Album: The White Songbook, The Tick Tock Treasury, Hello, Mannequin, The Ministry of Archers, and The Otherly Opus were supposed to be parts of what Ronnie called The Legacy Series. The themes of some of these made sense on their own: Tick Tock had a story in the liner notes about a fantasy kingdom under attack. Mannequin was about the dark side of both fame and friendship. The second half of Opus was about the Book of Genesis, between the Fall and the Flood. But Songbook and Archers were impenetrable, and no one besides Ronnie knows how the five albums are supposed to be connected.
    • The Starcadia EP is themed around Disneyland. Three of the songs reference specific attractions: the Matterhorn, Starcade, and the Carousel of Progress. "Circa 1978" is possibly a reference to Mickey Mouse's 50th birthday celebration.
    • The first half of Montgolfier And The Romantic Balloons is about various points in the history of ballooning.
  • Cover Album: Favorites At Play.
  • The Cover Changes the Gender: Averted with "Decode" on "Favorites at Play".
  • Creator's Oddball: The album Unelectric featured Ronnie performing prior songs with acoustic instruments. The Tick Tock Companion EP sees Ronnie abandon pop for Tangerine Dream-style abstract jamming.
  • Dead All Along: In the music video for "Red Will Dye These Snows of Silver". There's a girl who looks very sad about something, and a guy hanging around her who she keeps ignoring, no matter how close he gets. In the final verse, they walk through each other, making it clear that he's a ghost, and she's mourning him.
  • Distinct Double Album:
    • The Art and Craft of Popular Music: Disc One is a collection of previously unreleased songs and remixes. Disc Two is a standard Greatest Hits Album.
    • Montgolfier and the Romantic Balloons EP is divided in half, with the first half a concept mini-album about the history of ballooning, and the second half being remixed tracks and a b-side from The Ministry of Archers.
    • The Otherly Opus is a distinct double-EP. The first half, The Otherly Opus, is full of Ronnie's usual inscrutable lyrics. The second half, The Memory of Alpha, is all about the antediluvian period from Genesis.
  • Don't Shoot the Message: invoked While Ronnie is a devout Christian, some of his lyrics address hypocrites and prigs who claim the faith ("Disloyalist Party", for example).
  • Epic Instrumental Opener: "The White Songbook". The intro lasts three minutes, and the song itself lasts only four.
  • Epic Rocking: Several tracks on The White Songbook are just over 6 minutes long. The Tick Tock Companion EP has only four tracks, yet is over an hour long; you do the math.
    • "The Ushering in of the Magical Era" from The Otherly Opus ends with over 2 minutes of sequencer jamming and Ronnie's overdubbed vocals singing "Magical, magical" over and over again.
    • "Chariot of God" ends with an extended sequencer jam, and the total song is 8 minutes long.
  • Evolving Music: "Sweet Charity" and "We'll Last So Long" both first appeared as new wave songs on Tales by Morella's Forest. Then Ronnie rearranged them both in Dance House Children style for the Rainbow Rider album. Then he re-rearranged them in his Joy Electric style, with "Sweet Sweet Charity" appearing on Melody and "We'll Last So Long" appearing on The Art and Craft of Popular Music.
  • Gratuitous Panning: The song "Hello, Mannequin" has Ronnie's vocals switching back and forth between channels, to creepy effect.
  • Greatest Hits Album: The Art And Craft Of Popular Music.
  • I Am the Band
  • It's Been Done: Ronnie's explanation for the track selection of Favorites at Play. He'd initially thought to do an album covering songs that he had loved growing up, but then he realized there was already a glut of albums covering 80's songs. So he decided to cover songs that had come out in the last five years instead.
  • Lyrical Cold Open: "The Otherly Opus", "The Memory of Alpha", "Red Will Dye These Snows of Silver", and "Whose Voice Will Not Be Heard".
  • Minimalistic Cover Art
  • Mood Whiplash: Ensues whenever JE's saccharine and True Art Is Angsty tendencies share album space.
  • Nonindicative Title:
    • Joy Electric has far more songs ranging from melancholy to outright wangsty than they do genuinely joyful songs. Ronnie even claimed on the official forum once that "I don't write happy songs".
    • Some of his releases are marked as EPs, but are long enough that they could be considered albums. In particular, The Tick Tock Companion and Their Variables are both longer than the albums they were released after (The Tick Tock Treasury and The Otherly Opus, respectively).
  • Packaged as Other Medium: The White Songbook. The liner notes were designed like a proper book, complete with a table of contents and a page of copyright and printing information.
  • Perishing Synth Pop Voice: On the DHC albums and the earliest JE albums, Ronnie sang with a high, breathy voice that wouldn't have been out of place in a shoegazing band. By Robot Rock, he'd moved away from that style (to a fey style reminiscent of Neil Tennant). However, on some even later recordings—particularly the album My Grandfather, the Cubist and the song "Write Your Last Paragraph"—his singing sounds very raw, like his voice could give out any second.
  • Rearrange the Song:
    • A lot of the EPs feature remixes of songs from the just-released album.
    • "Sing Once for Me" (from The White Songbook) gets very, very rearranged as a lighter, poppier tune on Dwarf Mountain Alphabet. Most of the lyrics are altered as well—the chorus is the only part of the song that sounds the same (musically or lyrically) across both versions.
  • Remix Album: Their Variables had guest artists remixing all the tracks from The Otherly Opus, plus two original songs.
  • Retraux: Played with frequently in the use of analog synths, drum machines, and sequencers.
  • Self-Backing Vocalist: Ronnie is pretty much the only singer, so all backing vocals are like this. The Otherly Opus in particular plays with this.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Ronnie's lyrics, at times.
  • Shout-Out:
    • On the back cover of Rainbow Rider: Beautiful Dazzling Music No. 1, there's a photo of Ronnie with vinyl records by Ronnie's musical heroes Daniel Amos and 4-4-1 clearly visible in the background. The liner notes have a rambling essay that says (among other things) "The Smiths are the best band that ever lived".
    • "Dance to Moroder" was a tribute to Giorgio Moroder.
    • Writing in the The Art and Craft of Popular Music compilation, Ronnie describes the whole Starcadia EP as "very trashy, low-fi, late 70s influenced electro tracks recalling bands like Sparks and Fad Gadget."
    • "Nikola Tesla" was a tribute to the man himself.
    • "I am a Pioneer" was a tribute to Raymond Scott, Manhattan Research, "and all of the early electronic music pioneers".
    • Similarly, "Sheffield Youth" was a tribute to the electronic bands from the Sheffield scene of the late '70s (the liner notes specifically mentioned The Human League and OMD).
    • "Draw for Me, M.C. Escher", of course.
  • Spoken Word in Music: "The White Songbook", "Hello, Mannequin", and the bridge of "Quite Quieter Than Spiders".
  • Stopped Numbering Sequels: An amusing case where he stopped numbering the sequels immediately. Ronnie's five-album Legacy Series consisted of The White Songbook: Legacy Volume One, The Tick Tock Treasury, Hello, Mannequin, The Ministry of Archers, and The Otherly Opus. Notice how only the first one had any connection to the overall series in its title. The rest only mentioned their connection in the inner liner notes, with a brief notice that "This is Legacy Volume [number]."
  • Sugar Bowl: Evoked quite a bit on Melody, We Are the Music Makers, and Old Wives Tales while most projects up until Hello, Mannequin tended to have a couple sugary-sweet fantasy land songs.
  • Surreal Music Video: "Burgundy Years", "Monosynth", "Children of the Lord".
  • Textless Album Cover: The Ministry of Archers; Dwarf Mountain Alphabet.
  • Take That!:
    • "The Good Will Not Be Cloned or Why Should the Christians Get All the Bad Music". The lyrics are rather abstract, but seem to be a dig at Christian musicians who deliberately try to be The Moral Substitute for mainstream bands, as well as the industry that encourages these musicians.
    • "The Envelopes Brigade" is about gearheads—in Ronnie's own words, "people who buy and sell gear like gangbangers, but ultimately never use it to create anything."
    • "The White Songbook" had lyrics dissing the Christian music industry, with barely-veiled references to Newsboys, Audio Adrenaline, dc Talk, Amy Grant, and Forefront Records.note 
  • Take That, Critics!: "The Robot Beat (We're Back)".
  • Title 1:
    • Beautiful Dazzling Music No. 1. The liner notes promise that a Beautiful Dazzling Music No. 2 is "coming soon", but that never came to pass.
    • The White Songbook has the subtitle Legacy Volume One. This time, Ronnie did follow through, and released four more albums in his Legacy Series.
  • Theremin: Former member Jeff Cloud has used it live but more as a noisemaker than a true "instrument".
  • Unplugged Version: Half-heartedly done on Unelectric, which covers his prior Synth Pop songs on piano and acoustic guitar, but the arrangements are still backed by synth strings and drum machines.