Released: March 2018
Reviewed by: Benedict Roff-Marsh
This is a rather unusual one. I am looking at the Bandcamp site and not really sure where reality is. Maybe everything I read is true, maybe it is all part of the artwork. Terrible or brilliant marketing? I’ll leave you to decide.
Johnny is a Frenchman telling a Russian folk tale of a fellow who leaves Siberia to go to Paris to become a musician. Apparently, this form is very old and centers around little pictures that peasants would make that told the story. Traditionally the character would be called “Ivan” but Johnny is looking to update the form.
Je suis vrai confusement. But I can say with confidence that the artworks are very attractive in their own right and while I don’t understand more than a word or two of the songs there is a lovely surreal, Voltaire “Candide” vibe to it all.
Translation of the song titles:
- The Birth of Johnny
- The Lili Attraction
- The Letter to Babushka
- The Cassette
- The Journal of Johnny
It may also be that this is still a work in progress with more tracks to come. Shouldn’t be a concern as if you purchase now any extra tracks added to this release should be available to you at no extra cost once you own the record. Right now the price is “Pay What You Want” so it couldn’t be any fairer.
What you are (hopefully) listening to right now is an electronic backing of the best sort – one that is proudly electro but not trying to be anything but lovely. There are no blamming drums or distorted blarts. This is all incredibly civilized and restrained. The music is the backing to the stories. It covers the usual things of rhythm & melody but also brings in a sense of soundscape; not tacky things like slamming doors so much as that sense of suspension & movement that good electronic music can do so well.
The singing is en Francaise which initially is a little frustrating as I can’t get the words but it is also somewhat magical as Johnny is whisper/crooning in our ears and it is all rather French.
Matter of fact it all feels a bit Parisian Cafe music a la Edith Piaff. Not the accordion thing but that special way that only a classic French chansoner can deliver. It is tres romantic. Sorry, Romantic, lest you get confused about my relationship with Jane.
I can’t say I have any highlights or even lowlights in the listening (which I have several times now) and that is a super way to feel.
Comparisons: well my first thought was the similarly French F.R. David and his charming “Words” album from 1982 (which is sung in English). Next, I can’t help but be reminded of that surreal sense in Klaus Morlock (reviewed here). Johnny isn’t spooky like Morlock but the sense of otherworldliness is common. Johnny cites Kraftwerk as an influence, I get it but this isn’t like Kraftwerk, except perhaps just a tiny smidge of “Radioactivity” or even the little tone poems on the flipside of “Autobahn”, again from the use of electronic sound to separate the listener from solid reality.
Choosing a Genre was slightly tricky as this is a sort of Folk, a sort of Alternative Pop, a sort of Electronic. I don’t care though as it is a record that forces you to take it as it is, and it is beautiful.
This is the sort of thing I really love to support as it is unique. And did I mention how lovely it is.