Only the most cynical soul could deny jj a place in their heart.
Mike Diver 2010-04-21
By not making a massive song and dance about themselves – no press photos, no real biography – Swedish duo jj have obtained that rarest of buzzes: genuine word-of-mouth interest. The pair, Joakim Benon and Elin Kastlander, have quietly built themselves an online following, and debut album jj n° 2, released last year, earned itself Pitchfork’s Best New Music seal of approval. Substantial praise that, and this follow-up is their first release to receive an international push via new label Secretly Canadian. But has the mythical Difficult Second Album syndrome struck them down before they’ve reached their commercial prime?
If you’re not amongst the limited audience enamoured with the group’s (admittedly gorgeous) debut: no, not at all. This is a magical little listen, delicate of delightfully lilting melodies and wrapped in wonderfully warm, inviting vocals. Think Camera Obscura, Saint Etienne, Beach House, and fellow Swedes The Honeydrips; think Mazzy Star’s moments of quiet reflection given an glistening electro makeover, or a loved-up Telepathe temporarily putting aside more murderous thoughts. Direct comparison to jj n° 2 slightly detracts from its design – but only the truly pernickety would note any significant shortcomings. Essentially, jj have offered a more rounded, somewhat slicker version of what came before, and to the vast majority of listeners the comforting embrace it offers will be welcomed.
Not that there isn’t subversion on show, as jj’s affection for hip hop shines through with an opening cover of The Game’s My Life – not that you’d know it was a re-work of a rap original, ‘less the Lil Wayne-featuring hit is a most-played item in your collection. Over a lazy, echoing piano line, Kastlander sings of “grindin’ ‘til I’m tired… Looking to find a way through the day” – it’s as far removed from the ‘hood escape urgency of the original as could be. Every bit as pretty is And Now, a song of love slipping through one’s fingers, and Light, which represents possibly this album’s gentlest offering, bubbling beats rising through a mist of sublime vocal harmonising. It’s so chilled, there’s even someone whistling merrily in the mix.
Voi Parlate, Io Gioco, Into the Light and You Know up the tempo, but for the most part this is a set to slip into after a hard day, not one to rock out to during an even harder night. Only the most cynical soul could deny it a place in their heart.