The mysterious Swedish duo deliver a hastily prepared follow-up to their outstanding debut.
The mysterious Swedish duo jj released their debut LP, jj n° 2, just nine months ago, right in the middle of the summer. Their timing was impeccable. The album’s particular brand of tropics-infused dream-pop became my official soundtrack for the summer (and presumably many others'). Conversely, jj n° 3 comes stocked with frostier synth tones and darker moods in an effort to make the band’s summertime blues palatable for the current season’s snowstorms. They succeed, but with far fewer memorable tunes. Most of jj n° 3 feels slight and underwritten, which is not terribly surprising given the quick turn-around time between jj n°2 and jj n°3.
It seems there are two things guaranteed with every release from jj: swoony Balearic pop and Weezy references. The former is expected, due to jj’s association with Sincerely Yours, the Gothenburg-based label that serves as ground zero for the neo-Balearic movement. The latter would be surprising if the band hadn’t already released “Ecstasy”, a beguiling slice of nocturnal dub based on Lil’ Wayne’s “Lollipop”. jj n° 3 opens with “My Life”, which is essentially a cover of Lil’ Wayne’s verse from the Game’s “My Life”. jj delivers it as a ruminative piano ballad, with singer Elin Kastlande proving herself to be one hell of a smoky chanteuse. Surprise: it comes remarkably close to Fiona Apple territory.
Incidentally, two of the album’s peaks, “Let Go” and “You Know”, are the two moments that feel like holdovers from jj n° 2, but they don’t match the best moments on that album. The New Order-channeling “Into the Light” is the only other true highlight on jj n° 3. Listening to this album is a frustrating experience. I can’t shake the feeling that it was rushed out in a premature state to capitalize on the band’s growing hype/buzz, a fickle thing that can be fleeting.
Another point of contention: the band’s Lil’ Wayne obsession. While the “cover” of “My Life” is perfectly fine, I don’t see its inclusion on the album as necessary in the least. Things of this nature are best left as b-sides. Case in point: “My Way”, yet another Weezy-sampling track, is the b-side to “Let Go”. The band’s ability to combine two seemingly incongruous elements, Lil’ Wayne and Balearic pop, was impressive on the first pass, but now it’s just starting to feel like shtick.
To be fair, the bar for dream-pop in 2010 has been set remarkably high by Beach House’s Teen Dream. All residents of the genre are bound to appear lackluster in comparison, but that doesn’t change the fact that jj n° 3 could have been a strong album if it had been given a longer gestation period. jj achieved the rare feat of arriving with their uniquely seductive sound fully formed. When you’re in that rarefied club, no one expects any drastic sonic shifts or experiments on your sophomore album, but they do expect a batch of finished songs.