[9 May 2014]
Swedish rock duo Johnossi (John Engelbert and Oskar “Ossi” Bonde) are exactly the kind of outfit that seems to be in short supply in America these days: an earnest, classy, polished rock band untainted by unearned bombast. Their fourth album, Transitions, released in their homeland in 2013 but finally seeing an international release this spring, is a thoughtful rumination on entering one’s 30s—self-identity, defining success, maintaining friendships, the whole shebang—without ever getting ponderous. Big stars in Sweden (they recently won a Swedish Grammy for “Best Group”), Transitions is also a fine introduction to what a good band with a decade of success and growth can do these days.
Englebert and Bonde are tight bros from way back: they melded halves of their faces together for the cover of their eponymous 2005 debut, and Transitions’ cover evokes a Rob and Laura Petrie-style sleeping arrangement, for whatever that’s worth. More than a few of the album’s songs here nod to the importance of friendship—“Everywhere With You Man”, “Dead End”, “Roscoe”—and they’re all gleaming rock songs, abetted by executive producers Bjorn Yttling (Peter, Bjorn and John) and Pontus Winnberg (Miike Snow). A lot of the credit for Johnossi’s big, bold sound must go to a new Johnossi buddy, keyboardist Martin Hederos, whose instrument adds an edge to “Gone Forever”, “Seventeen” and who, crucially, played in The Soundtrack of Our Lives, a band that loved the epic side of the Who as much as the Johnossi guys do. Heck, Engelbert even sounds more than a little like Pete Townshend and damned if ethereal album closer “The Great Escape” couldn’t have come off of TSOOL’s cosmic swan song, Throw It To The Universe. It’s a whole different rock world on the other side of the Atlantic, one where bands can act their age, ask the Big Questions and still be successful.