What better time than the thick of summer to re-release a frightfully successful album that got indie kids the world over going ga-ga over its fey innocence realized like a sweet apparition? Jj, the stripling boy-girl duo from Sweden responsible for this phenomenon, count themselves among achingly hip purveyors of hypnogogic, pop tones like Summer Camp, Beach House and fellow countrymen Air France; their media shyness (a website, anyone?) seemingly matched only by their productions’ blissful haziness. They can also count themselves among the smart set for relaunching their debut just over a year after its initial release to capitalize on the critical acclaim lavished earlier in 2010 on their sophomore effort, jj no 3.
However much darlings of the reigning zeitgeist they are, though, there is much more to jj than a convection wave of hot air. Although their songs on jj no 2 are amalgamations of several strands of modishness—Balearic pop, afro-pop, ‘60s beat music—by sheer force of talent, they remain as pleasantly threadbare as a bikini. The entire album wafts along on Elin Kastlander’s diaphanous St Etienne/Enya-esque vocals and cantering Afro-rhythms without the unnecessary anchors of bass lines and kick drums; while everything shimmers like asphalt on a blistering day. It is lazily tempting to conclude that Kastlander’s vocals are as ice-princess-cool as the unimaginative preconceptions of her homeland by foreigners; but it’s probably fairer to suggest that their want of emotional dynamism are in likeness to the silky and uniform oral deliveries of young choruses.
To which it is to be said that on jj no 2, the duo are near angelic despite the content of its cover art (a quality that very nearly dissolves in the beautiful bruise that is jj no 3). An undying optimism in words also permeates the album with the hit song “From Africa to Malaga” intoning: “It’s not easy to die/No matter how dumb you are, you will eventually rise”; and the very twee “Are You Still In Valda”, a childlike eternal hope to see a loved one again. Even when clouds creep in on the horizon, as in the slightly rueful “My Hopes and My Dreams” and “Things Will Never Be The Same Again”, you still feel like you’re being serenaded by violins on white sands in the middle of golden oblivion.
The greatest accomplishment of jj no 2 is that despite its naïve outlook, it is very difficult for one not be entrapped in its treacle throes. That’s because there is not a dud song on it. Although minimalist by persuasion, jj display an easy sophistication in song structure and arrangement. “From Africa to Malaga” reveals unobvious detours of tune that appear always to return to home base in seemingly natural ways; while “Masterplan” is, despite its irregular time signatures meted out by what sounds like an accordion, glibly and merrily proceeds like a carousel. The not insignificant vocal profanities incongruously inserted into this picture of sunshine, picnics and balloons tellingly usher in the succeeding album’s audacious trials in hip hop.
There is little detectable difference between this edition of jj no 2 and the original, so it is clearly for those late arrivals who missed the first coach of the Swedish pop bandwagon. Summer is not over yet, and neither is the shelf life of jj.
// Notes from the Road
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