Thursday, December 14, 2006

Jay-Jay Johanson - The Long Term Physical Effects Are Not Yet Known

Jay-Jay Johanson

1. She Doesn't Live Here Anymore
2. Time Will Show Me
3. Coffin
4. Rocks in Pockets
5. As Good As It Gets
6. Only For You
7. Jay-Jay Johanson Again
8. Breaking Glass
9. New Year's Eve
10. Tell Me When The Party's Over / Prequiem
11. Peculiar

The new work from Swedish crooner, Jay-Jay Johanson, is a welcome return to form. The premise here is loss and isolation. There is a rough aspect to all the songs that make this his most coherent album since Poison. This album is full of the fear and despair one feels in the absence of a loved one. Where Poison drew on elements of rock, electronica and hip-hop, the new album's closest references are jazz and movie soundtracks. Jay-Jay's new album has a very European-style cinematic feel, notions of Francois de Roubaix, Michel Legrand and Philippe Sarde's darker work are evoked. Jay-Jay was inspired to sing from listening to Chet Baker, then later the sound and success Portishead achieved provide two touchstones for his work.

The first song "She doesn't live here anymore", sets the tone for the rest of the album as it opens with the rhythmic sound of bells before a slow percussive march and John Barry-style bass guitar kicks in. The song chronicles a man's withdrawal and regression from society. It is breathtaking in its litany of despair. From this point on, a good part of the disc feels like the mental state of this man. "Time will show me" starts with a noisy Hammond organ sound before lapsing into a meditation on this period of separation. The next track "Coffin", one of the quieter songs, seems to take up the story from where the song "Escape" on the album Poison left off – he now contemplates digging a grave for himself as everything he does in life makes him feel worse. The mood changes slightly with "Rocks in Pockets". (rumored to be the next single) It is one of the more fully cinematic pieces. It starts with this bouncy, percussive beat and ominous strings which lay down a dense, atmospheric bed of sound, setting the scene for what is to come. Jay-Jay's voice rises above it all: 'Pack your bags – Keep it Quiet" – the first lines hang in the air and move on, barely having time to settle before the scene quickly shifts. This is a song of movement, it chronicles the thrill (and desire) of an escape. Most of the lyrics start with verbs, placing the motion of the journey on the ears of the listener. It is the story of two people who leave home on a mysterious mission. The song feels reminiscent of a dark thriller or possibly Alain Tanner's film "Messidor"—a destructive and desperate sense pervades the atmosphere. Following this, the mood turns light, and almost jazzy with "As Good As It Gets", perhaps the happiest song on the disc. It talks of memories of childhood, of being pushed from a great height and surviving. What could have ended in death becomes a recognition of life pushing one onwards. "Only For You" is quieter as its story gets darker, a person suppressing himself and his identity in order to prove his love. "Jay-Jay Johanson Again" is a wry tune about Jay-Jay's thoughts as he performs for the audience (it ends with the genius lines "look in my eyes, you'll recognize: Jay-Jay Johanson"). "Breaking Glass" (not a David Bowie cover) is another quieter track, that expresses the need to 'forget the past', musically it's interesting, he sings over a percussive beat formed by his own breath. "New Year's Eve" again talks of the absence and longing for a former love around that time of year, it is one of the saddest tracks I've heard on the subject. It is also perhaps the most real, as it address the loneliness many people commonly feel around that time. "Tell me when the party's over" is another quieter tune that slowly fades away into the brief coda that is "Prequiem"—a piece that ends with the sound of strings and helicopters. The final track on the album, "Peculiar", is almost like Jay-Jay Johanson does Tom Jobim, it has this odd bossa nova type quality to it. Jay-Jay sings about a girl called Peculiar—it's a funny little song and an irreverent ending to an album that is so moody.

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