For You Who Are the Wronged

for you who are the wronged

Across three albums, Glasgow-based musician Kathryn Joseph has gradually extended a loving hand outwards. Her first, Bones You Have Thrown Me and Blood I’ve Spilled, which won the 2015 Scottish Album of the Year award, was an intensely personal and interior record about loss, made in response to the death of her son Joseph (whose name she subsequently adopted as her stage moniker). In 2018, From When I Wake the Want Is featured the stories of some of Joseph’s loved ones: a young niece who suffered a severe illness, friends who temporarily lost their strength and self-worth to abusive relationships. Joseph’s music is urgent, sparse, and largely unembellished, its intimate, slow-burning intensity rendered without distraction or added drama. Often, her songs sound like unmediated transpositions of feeling.

Like her previous records, for you who are the wronged takes desecration and pain as its subject matter, though it presents a more abstract and generalized view, addressing abuse and trauma as broad topics, rather than individual stories. Now reaching out a hand to anyone who might take it, Joseph uses pain as an entrypoint to human connection. From her place of abjection, she offers peace and loving kindness, encouraging whoever hears her music to find themselves in it and to seek power. To do this, she renders brutal subject matter—the violence of those who use their love to abuse—into a soft, soporific register, not unlike a kind of true crime ASMR.

Her luminous brand of minimalism makes use of a very limited and quaint palette of sounds. She plays each of these songs on a keyboard with the subdued twinkle of a music box, almost entirely in a wiggly 3/4 time signature, drumless rhythms spinning in a ceaseless waltz. Her quavering voice, with its tiny reverb tails, establishes a simultaneous nearness and distance. In its cursive expression and diminutive intensity, it recalls Swedish singer Stina Nordenstam. Paradoxically, Joseph carries the majority of her vocal intensity within the diminishing of each note. On “until the truth of you,” her vibrato sounds like the agitated flapping of a bird’s wings, and in its exigent refrain, she wheezes to be heard.

Every element on the album—the sounds of Joseph’s voice and keys, alongside the faint embellishment of collaborator Lomond Campbell’s modular synths—reverberates as long as its breath can carry. Joseph battles against the negative space, conveying her essential urge to communicate and the inadequacy of her keys to transpose her emotional furor. The contrast is immaculate and occasionally excruciating, endowing the tiniest sounds with monumental impact. On the title track, Joseph is simultaneously at her wildest and most restrained; her whisper becomes a wail, though she reins back into a warble at the slightest hint of catharsis. It sounds like the unbearable tension of wanting to scream yourself out of your own body but only being able to manage a howling hush.

Kathryn Joseph