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Last week, I downloaded the latest free EP from the Autumn Film, a local act that makes a habit of giving its tracks away online. I must admit that, before I got my hands on this collection, a three-track-and-a-video collection called Heart-Shaped Box, I was far from being a fan of the band formerly known as Tifah. It wasn't that I had anything against the extremely talented trio of Tifah Al-Attas, Dann Stockton and Reid Phillips. It was simply that the group's adult contemporary pop didn't speak to me. All that changed, however, with one track: "Joy."
At its core, "Joy" is a cover tune. With nothing but Al-Attas's haunting voice and an unadorned upright piano, the recording transforms an old-as-dirt children's hymn that many folks will remember from Sunday school and church camp into a plaintive song of pain and disappointment. Al-Attas begins the track at nearly a whisper, touching the keys of her piano just hard enough to tease its strings. The listener has to lean in just to catch the words: "I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart." At around the two-minute mark of the four-minute recording, however, the singer uses a bridge composed of original words and music to morph the song from spiritual to profoundly personal. At the same time, her singing and playing build to a powerful crescendo that mirrors the frustration and angst of the lyrics. This crescendo then decays beneath the weight of its own emotions, and Al-Attas ends the song in almost the same whisper with which she began. It's heartbreaking, but also oddly exhilarating in its naked, honest beauty.