Swedish avant-garde songwriter Jay Jay Johanson brings out his 10th studio album featuring 10 stories set in his own darkened world. Don’t get me wrong, these aren’t fantastical tales, there’s a bittersweet realism to Johanson’s work. Songs that seem to want to paint you a picture in order to tell you that it is just a picture, not real life. Healthy blending of electronics and Bad Seeds blues right here.
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- Opium by Jay Jay Johanson
7/10 Robin Staff review, 11 June 2015
Editor-to-the-sad-stars Clint told me this was going to be miserable (he looks sad on the cover - Clint), but I think he’s mixing up being miserable with sounding sort of like the dude from Grizzly Bear. There are beats on this thing; harmonicas, even. Need I go on? This dude is clearly not wallowing; he’s just found a bunch of instruments in his attic and it is a very, very good time for him to be alive. It’s not his fault his voice sounds automatically devastated.
Jay-Jay Johanson has been making one-man indie pop for a very long time indeed, and ‘Opium’ is in fact his tenth release, reconfiguring his sound into its best production yet and its slickest melodic persuasions. Sounding like Jens Lekman if he took twee pop super sternly, he uses toy instruments and unfathomable timbres to create curiously dark atmospheres: opener “Drowsy / Too Young To Say Goodnight” piles on a suffocating drumbeat and then tinkers with sideshow instruments for melodies that feel rigidly interposed. “Moonshine” is a rather gruesome-sounding horror flick tune with crunchy electronics for Johanson to spookily go “ooOooO’ over. “NDE” sounds like Johanson listened to Lorde’s “Royals” and decided it would be better as a lovelorn, after-hours bar ballad -- okay, so I’m basically describing Tom Waits with handclaps, but you know I’m right.
At times this record sounds a little traditionalist and indebted to schmaltz, with the watery guitar tracking and subdued acoustics of “Scarecrow” making for something a little too pantomimic. But ultimately there’s something quite lovely in Johanson’s indecision: is he agonizing, or is this all totally silly? Both and neither? Both and neither.
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