The emergence of Swedish duo JJ in March 2009 was both meaningful and mysterious. A debut single, jj no.1, enchanted the music press, simultaneously existing across indie-pop and hip-hop spectrums, excitingly new and yet frustratingly vague in its presentation. This was a taste, a scent, something intangible, an impression made without force. The music was here, but little else - its makers remained anonymous. Pitchfork's Best New Music review for the band's debut album, summer 2009's jj no.2, spoke first of their enigmatic qualities, rather than precisely what this music was: another sumptuous menagerie of styles, blended by an expert hand, intoxicating and otherworldly. Both Elin Kastlander and Joakim Benon appeared in the Marcus Söderlund-directed video to "Let Go". Cover, broken.
"We didn't mean to be anonymous, to begin with," says Kastlander. "We just knew we needed to put our music out."
"I'd say we've been working on this album our whole lives," says Benon of V, the band's third long-player. "It's the thing I've always wanted to do. I feel that we've been working on this album ever since we began to record music. We have never really had any other plan than to make this V shit happen and at the same time we never knew what it was - the story presented itself to us - and it's a story that's always been clear. It's only grown in its own way. And now we're finished, we look at it and back at it, and can begin to realize what it really is, what we have done, because it's something you don't necessarily decide for yourself, even though you've made it. And the songs... we don't write them, we just do our best to catch them forever, for real." JJ have, with new album V, realised the definitive expression of their experiences to date, and are finally comfortable with being a press-welcoming, tour-ready outfit.
As Benon explains, everything the pair has produced in the past has been part of this journey, to a zenith that they always sought to reach. But just as "My Boyz" exists exclusively in and of itself, so too does the new album's material, always envisioned as a whole, separate from other projects despite carrying over select DNA from its pop progenitors.
Tracks like the gorgeously understated "Be Here Now" and subtle strings of "When I Need You" float into clarity, coming together from vaporous beginnings. The latter number is one of several on V that showcase how Kastlander has grown as a vocalist. Hers is no indiscernible mumble, no vulnerable presence set to music that fizzes like a beachside cocktail on "Fågelsången" and soars on digital wings on "All White Everything"; rather, it's a mix-spearing confirmation that, whatever the bruised heart or open sexuality behind the lyrics, she's intent on connecting without compromise. Words are crisp, intonation perfect. There's still a hard thud on occasion, too: "Hold Me" opens with lean-flavoured raps, before twisting into a stained-glass confessional of absolute gravity, and "All Ways, Always" packs substantial swagger beside its rock riffs.
"We do it now," sings Kastlander on "I". And now really is the time for JJ, as acknowledged by Benon. "At last I have music that I really want to listen to, that I want to hear from a stage. In a way, we've made this music quite selfishly, to appeal primarily to ourselves and I really haven't felt this way about our material before. This is the moment. It's for real now."
And why do anything to restrict the sharing of that joy? Evidently at the top of their game in 2014, JJ are ready to, in Benon's words, "communicate with the world", quite unlike they've ever done so before. They're embracing, not retreating. Besides, mysteries are more frustrating than fascinating without resolution.
Nikki Sudden and the Jacobites: Texas
In a year when overproduced rock-fluff flooded radio waves, Texas - Sudden's 1986 solo debut for Creation - blasted through the saccharin for a damaged and masterful invocation at the imperfect alters of Chilton and Bolan, sonic influences the Brit bore proudly on his velvet sleeve throughout the course of his polarizing prolificacy. As the increasingly splintered Rolling Stones cultivated "Harlem Shuffle" cover cheese, the former Jacobite leader looked to the ragged Exile On Main St. and Sticky Fingers roots of his icons for a raw, 12-song predication melding tender jangle and staggering swagger. Widely considered Sudden's solo magnum opus, Texas is an exquisite mélange of the off-kilter sub-terrestrial songwriter. In founding Swell Maps, the post-punk prefacing Birmingham art-snots, Nikki Sudden and his drumming brother Epic Soundtracks charted new territory for racket and corrosive guitar. But after folding Swell Maps at the dawn of the '80s, Nikki Sudden plowed through another decade's worth of terrifically fertile ground. Drawing on his devotion to the Rolling Stones and T. Rex--alongside guitarist Dave Kusworth as Jacobites, plus a cheekily named cohort of British sidemen - Nikki Sudden cut a string of raw, inspired rock 'n' roll records, etched with double-edged travel melancholia and hard-bitten punk dejection.
Jad Fair & Danielson: Solid Gold Heart
Anyone who ever had a Solid Gold Heart -- wouldn't they want to turn around and share it? Of course they would. Jad Fair and Danielson do. And their 11 tracks of sweet collaboration, collected under said title, sound like what you might expect: gleaming tunes of sincere sing-speak, resplendent with sparkling back-up vocals and warmly melodic, inventive instrumentation; a sunshine-bright outlook of positive encouragement to keep "rockin' on the side of goooood" -- because, after all, "We deserve chocolate cake/ We deserve apple pie/ Enjoy your life ..."
Sufjan Stevens: Enjoy Your Rabbit
Originally released in 2001 before Michigan and Illinois, Sufjan Steven's Enjoy Your Rabbit foretells his 2010 electronic Age of Adz. Though overlooked by many, there are fans who regard Enjoy Your Rabbit as Sufjan's greatest work.
Departing from the singer-songwriter format of his debut Asthmatic Kitty Records album, A Sun Came, Rabbit is a collection of fourteen colorful instrumental compositions combining Sufjan's noted gift for melody with electronic sounds to create an unusually playful and human - not to mention humane - electronic experience. Great for dancing, driving, writing, cooking, painting, running, walking, and of course, eating Chinese food, Rabbit features nearly eighty minutes of music that will truly soothe the savage breast, whatever that means.
Julianna Barwick: Rosabi EP
Julianna Barwick's ethereal looping has the uncanny ability to adapt to the space in which she performs - be it a church, warehouse, museum - or Dogfish Head Craft Brewery's brew house. In late 2013 Dogfish Head Founder and President Sam Calagione celebrated the brewery's 18-month expansion by inviting Julianna to perform in the newly renovated space and collaborate on a unique brew. This June, Dogfish Head will release that special brew, Rosabi, a well-hopped Imperial Pale Ale (featuring a touch of red rice & wasabi), along with Julianna's "Rosabi" EP, which incorporates the symphony of sounds found in the brewing process. The 10-inch record will be released in a limited edition of 1,000, sold only in sealed cases of six 750ml bottles of the 8% ABV Rosabi, and as a digital EP via Dead Oceans on June 3rd.
Jad Fair & Strobe Talbot: Let's Born To Rock!
The first installment of the Jad Fair 2014 "Artist In Residence" Box-Set is the incredible album from Jad Fair & Strobe Talbot, titled "Let's Born To Rock!".
Strobe Talbot is more or less a collective of Jad's buddies, including John Dieterich of Deerhoof, Mick Hobbs from Half-Japanese, and lo-fi legend R. Stevie Moore, among others.
Major Lazer: Apocalypse Soon
Major Lazer has announced their first official release of 2014, the Apocalypse Soon EP, slated for release February 25 via Secretly Canadian / Mad Decent. The new chapter begins where Major Lazer, led by Grammy nominated Diplo, left off in 2013. Once again, Major Lazer has recruited some of the biggest names in music to collaborate on the 5 track EP including Pharrell Williams and Sean Paul as well as Machel Montano, RDX, Moska and Mr. Fox.
Josefus: Dead Man
Dead Man is a 13th Floor Elevator descent headlong into southern-fried bloody Sabbath. Released on the Hookah imprint in 1970, the LP's gaping cranium cover, sludged-up blues, and bone-bleached riffs outsold Let It Be, if only locally, being far "too psychedelic" and skull-crushing for Houston'sInternational Artists label to touch. A Texas-bound band except in tracking Dead Man inside the furnace of Phoenix, Josefus strode loud and longhaired amid the oil fields, peddling their own brand of black gold.As US involvement in the Vietnam War peaked and human boots sunk into lunar dust, Josefus powered across the Texas plains, shaking its coliseums awake as openers for the Grateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service. Heavier by tonnage than both the Stones they cover and "I Want You (She's So Heavy)," Doug Tull, Pete Bailey, Ray Turner, and Dave Mitchell watched their 17-minute funeral pyre title track burn through statewide airplay, glorying in the evil looseness of the FM format.Read no further than the replica back cover of our JR reissue, which sends Josefus "emitting from the darkness of obscurity, bursting forth with the drive and impact of a celestial happening." A clattering and prescient skeleton of a record - a deceased Zeppelin reanimated by four lost and darkenedcountry boys - Dead Man truly should be played loud.
Sufjan Stevens & Cat Martino: Take the Time
The limited edition flexi-disc single features the never before heard track "Take The Time" (& no, this is not a Christmas song...). Longtime friends Sufjan Stevens & Cat Martino have a tradition of contributing to each other's music. A regular member of Sufjan's touring band, Cat Martino has contributed to Sufjan's Christmas EPs, "All Delighted People", and "Age of Adz". Likewise, Sufjan has often contributed to Cat's "Yr Not Alone" album, and rumor has it that Sufjan will participate in Cat's anticipated "Stranger Cat" project).
Stone Jack Jones: Ancestor
Based in Nashville, but raised in a coal miner's company house on the banks of Buffalo Creek, WV, Stone Jack Jones is the descendant of four generations of coal miners. After being rejected from military service in Vietnam due to epilepsy, and discouraged from pursuing the coal mining business, Jack decided to start wandering. By the time he landed in Nashville, where he met Roger Moutenot, Patty Griffin, and Kurt Wagner, Jack had worked as a carny, an escape artist, a ballet dancer, a professional lute player, and even owned a strip club.
Ancestor was produced in collaboration with Roger Moutenot (known for his work with Yo La Tengo, Sleater Kinney, and many others), and features contributions by Patty Griffin, and Lambchop members Ryan Norris, Scott Martin, and Kurt Wagner. Intensely meditative, the album patiently explores the hardness of the coal mines, the mystery of suicide, the comfort of a dog's love and acceptance, the idea that forgetting all you know can be the first step towards hearing and reconnecting with your muse, and one man's gratitude for the love he's been given and the life he's had the chance to live.
Juan Wauters: N.A.P. North American Poetry
In his debut solo record, N.A.P. North-American Poetry, Wauters dreams big; coming into his own as a singer. Building on his songwriting, popularized by The Beets, Juan presents introspective tracks, like Water and Sanity, and reflections on humans' relationship with technology in songs like Breathing—which features Carmelle Safdie. The record is completed, as always, by the artwork of dear friend and longtime collaborator Matthew Volz, who has honed the trademark visual aesthetic of Juan's music. This album is a selection of recordings made between the fall of 2010 and the summer of 2012 at Marlborough Farms. N.A.P. delivers a fresh sound and lyrical candor from one of Queens' most idiosyncratic adoptive sons.