Dublin-bred artist EDEN (aka Jonathon Ng) achieved critical acclaim and commercial success with his starkly minimalistic take on R&B infused pop on his 2018 album, Vertigo. The follow-up No Future finds him furthering his distinctive vision as he expands his sonic palette and broadens his perspective on an achingly beautiful modern pop album.
The fragile minimalism of opener “Good Morning” sets the template for the record. After an initially jarring surge, the song settles into a gently undulating mix of chilly electronics, piano chords, and soft synths. It’s the perfect, understated bed for his vulnerable, impassioned vocals as it builds to a dramatic climax before drifting off on a stream of twinkling piano notes. “Hertz” has a more spiritual feel with Ng forlornly singing, “I can’t see a way through” over echoing synth chords. It’s a clever, multi-textured track with the stuttering pads giving it a thrillingly disorientating edge.
The deftly constructed “Projector” is a slick slice of contemporary R&B pop. Over warm streams of synths and an almost tribal beat, Ng sings about holding on and riding the storm no matter how bad things may seem. Indeed, thematically songs veer from the sorely personal to his own keenly felt reflections on the modern world. On “Love, Death, Distraction”, for example, Ng reflects on how social media can lead to wider apathy. It’s a powerful and very relevant piece with Ng letting the words resonate over ringing guitar notes and crisp, clean electronics.
On the face of it, Ng’s musical template is relatively straightforward. However, the uncomplicated nature of the music gives his voice the space it needs to shine. His emotive, glowing vocals are the heart of every song, and the production stays true to that ideal. On the stripped back, “Calm Down”, his voice fills every nook and cranny backed only by simple synth chords. Only when it feels absolutely right does he finally allow it to lose its ballast as it soars to a spectacularly poignant finale.
While the songs on No Future occupy the same sonic territory, each song finds Ng subtly varying his pallette. Whether it’s the muffled drum loops on “How to Sleep” or the tempo shift on the slow, hip-hop-infused banger “Just Saying”, the album is full of subtle adornments and alterations. Similarly, how he builds rich textures from multiple vocal tracks is often jaw-droppingly effective – at one point slowly shifting until it resembles a full gospel choir.
On “Rushing”, the atmospheric electronics blow through like a stiff, coastal breeze with Ng’s clean guitar work fighting back the chill. Steady beats guide his voice like a light in the fog until a Prince-esque guitar solo spectacularly falls from the sky. Even better still is “2020”. Opening in familiar fashion with Ng’s vocals over somber guitar, it suddenly breaks into a floor-filling EDM anthem.
Album closer, “Untitled” rounds the album off in suitably stirring fashion. It’s a sumptuous guitar ballad with Ng joined by a children’s choir as they sing lines from the Jamaican folk song Linstead market. It’s a hopeful, upbeat ending to an album that runs the gamut of emotions from despair to optimism.
No Future is an understated, soulful pop gem that seems to exist in its own time and place. At its core is the voice of an artist looking for answers in a world where few are easy to find while musically, EDEN expands on his characteristic sound while never losing sight of his musical intentions.