Music

Johnnyswim: Diamonds

The words and music may be simple, but they also have an electrifying effect.


Johnnyswim

Diamonds

Label: Big Picnic
US Release Date: 2014-04-29
UK Release Date: 2014-04-29
Amazon
iTunes

If one had to describe the music on Johnnyswim’s new release in one word, it would be “anthemic”. Almost every track ends in a sing-along refrain to a martial beat. That’s not a reproach. The hallmark of having a distinctive style is that is easily open to criticism and parody. However, what makes Johnnyswim so much fun to listen to (not to mention sing and play along with) can also be a fault. Their big tunes and brazen attitudes suggest that by listening we are participating in something bigger than ourselves, but when all is said and done, it’s just entertainment for its own sake.

So haul out the shibboleths. Release the vinyl rain, as Firesign Theatre used to tell us. There’s nothing the matter with being formulaic if one can just execute properly. And Johnnyswim does so in catchy songs sung with deep hooks, intense emotions, and passionate beating hearts. Both husband and wife Abner Ramirez and Amanda Sudano have strong and clear voices. Individually, their vocals are rich, deep, and powerful. Each singer conveys a ferocity of conviction with a potent delicacy, like whiskey that bites the lips but goes down smooth. When they sing in harmony, their voices complement each other’s and reveal the profound musical connections between them. This may sound more like hype than reality, but damn if one cannot feel it while listening to them.

So even when they spout meaningless phrases such as “We’re the fire, from the sun / We’re the light when the day is done / We are the brave, we are the chosen ones / We the diamonds, diamonds / Rising about the dust,” you can’t help but forgive their meaningless ancient postmodern drivel and want to join in the mystical excitement. The aforementioned “diamonds” serve as a metaphor for what happens when we lose our fear and express our real emotions, but the representation overtakes what is signified so that the symbol itself becomes a fetish. This happens on song after song they do together, such as “A Million Years” and “Live While We’re Young”. And as they sort of end the same, to a cadence one can go into battle with, the war cries become clichés.

As a result, the 12 cuts work best when heard as singles. Their variety becomes more evident when not played in bulk. Sudano and Ramirez do take leads on certain songs that showcase their considerable separate talents. Take Sudano’s love-swept “Closer.” The song fades with a long instrumental coda that reveals just how affecting her voice was. You can hear her chanting in your head long after she has stopped singing.

Ramirez sounds like a more bluesy John Legend. There’s sophistication and sweetness, but his vocals come off as heavy more than light. His howl of revenge, “Pay Dearly”, may be bitter and nasty, but not playful. He wants to settle a score; he’s not fooling around trying to get some make-up sex.

Their joint work is just as compelling. When they sing cuts like the appropriately named ode to togetherness, “You and I”, it’s easy to forget doggerel such as “You and I / We're fire and water / You and I / We're rain and thunder / You and I / There is no other”, etc. sung over a pounding beat. The infectiousness of the performance makes one want to join and contribute one's own twaddle (re: how about, Venus and Mars, Ebony and Ivory, the sun and the moon, ad infinitum?). The words and music may be simple, but they also have an electrifying effect. This is true for all of the songs on the record. Johnnyswim kicks serious butt.

7

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less
10

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image