tremble clef

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Jay-Jay Johanson, "Rocks In Pockets" (2007)

It's tough to listen to the new Jay-Jay Johanson album, the ominously-titled The Long Term Physical Effects Are Not Yet Known, without slashing your wrists, but it's a record worth locking up the razors for. Sonically, Jay-Jay has left behind the bouncier electropop of the last two albums (Antenna, and 2005's criminally ignored Rush) to return to the trip-hop vibes of his earlier work, and written lyrics to match. (Perhaps his recent work with The Knife has left a mark.) The result is a spectacularly depressed album.

To wit:

1. The first single and lead-off track is "She Doesn't Live Here Anymore." It's about her, who's not so much with the living there anymore. Sob.

2. Another song finds Jay-Jay on a beach somewhere, though it's fair to say that it's probably not Phuket. It's probably not even the beaches of Lost. He reminisces about the time he carved a raft out of some wood, but by the second verse he is digging "a hole in the sand/Longer and deeper than wide/And from what was left, I created a box/That I gently placed in the grave." The song is therefore called "Coffin," and its chorus goes, "Everywhere I go, everywhere I hide/Makes me feel no better/Anything I do, anything I tried/Makes me feel much worse."

3. "New Year's Eve" is not really a celebratory song to which you can kiss your lover at midnight: "New Year's Eve/Why you decide to choose me?/Deliberately abuse me?/You let her say goodbye." Nor is what sounds like its sequel, "Tell Me When The Party's Over/Prequiem," especially celebratory, although the tune of the chorus is incredibly hooky. "Tell me when the party's over/Call me when the music stops/When your champagne glass is empty/I will come and pick you up/Tell me when the party's over/Call me when the lights are out/When everybody's left the building/I’ll be 'round.” The glass is not even half-empty on this one.

4. The French edition of the album features a bonus track called "It Would Be Easy To Say I'm Fine, But I'm Not" (which you can hear at Jay-Jay's myspace). Somewhere Morrissey seethes with jealousy.

5. But my favorite track on the album is the song slated to be the second single, not that I can imagine it actually being a hit. To a sparse but urgent "Running Up That Hill"-esque drumbeat that was born to soundtrack flight and escape, the narrator addresses a young girl (though he may likewise be teenage). "Pack your bags/Keep it quiet/So your dad doesn't wake up/He'll be mad/When he notice that you're gone/Cross the field/Through the trees/Behind the curtain we take off/Cut the leash/Come with me, we're on the run." As the verse ends, a synth wash simultaneously provides an uplift and a chill down the spine; Jay-Jay's voice goes up an octave, and he sings the ethereal chorus: "We don't need nobody's help/We can make it on our own/We just want you all to leave us alone."

But what comes after the chorus is perhaps spookier, as it gives the song its title and makes clearer the young lovers' intentions: "We've got rocks in our pockets/But nothing's gonna slow us down." The suicide-pact scenario becomes sharper as the song progresses, and in the final verse, Jay-Jay commands: "Strike a match/Hide the box/To the smell of gasoline/Take a breath/We're gonna leave it all behind." Although the song might therefore seem like a melodramatic teenage soap opera -- the kind of scene that t.A.T.u. has been painting for a while, for example -- Jay-Jay's singing, which paradoxically combines passion and a kind of zombified lack of affect, as if he is under the spell of a cult leader, absolutely sells it and makes the song not just believeable, but quite shiver-inducing. It is, for me, a six-minute goosebump.


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