jj n° 3
(Sincerely Yours/Secretly Canadian; 2010)
By Andrew Hall | 20 February 2010
Eight months isn’t a particularly long time, but it’s marked a whole lot of changes for jj. The mystery surrounding the group is completely and totally gone; we now know that jj consists of two people, Joakim Benon and Elin Kastlander, that they play shows, which virtually no one else on Sincerely Yours does, and that they’re on Secretly Canadian, who probably prefer selling records to being difficult. Because of this, we knew that jj n° 3 existed three months before its release, whereas its predecessor was simply made available, with no prior announcement and no explanation, one day early last July.
While all of this says nothing about the music itself, it leads to the fact that I am struggling to be sympathetic to jj n° 3 after endorsing jj n° 2. I can’t tell how much of this is because Sincerely Yours’ deliberate masking is no longer a factor and how much of it is because I’m tired of hearing any band that can fall under the veil of “indie-dance” use Auto-tuned vocals, or, worse, cover rap singles in a semi-ironic tone, a tradition born out of terrible alt-rock bands and continued here through n° 3‘s first song. It’s a cover of “My Life,” originally by the Game, that consists of melodramatic piano and Kastlander’s vocals that, unlike “Ecstasy” on its predecessor, does not get an enthusiastic pass. This is unfortunate, since jj strips the song to the point that there’s nothing to hold onto but her voice.
Elsewhere, those tossing off Enya comparisons last time around aren’t likely to back off now: Kastlander sounds even more like a new age icon into light drug use than she did before. The same artificial production that the band used prior (fake-sounding strings, shimmering synth tones) now sit at the forefront of this music, burying instead of merely decorating it—as happens about halfway through “And Now” and within the opening bars of “Into The Light,” where Kastlander competes with the production for control of the song and gets lost altogether, or the bridge of “Voi Parlate, Io Gioco,” where a mediocre, straightforward MIDI-sounding string lead appears seemingly for no reason. jj’s labelmates Air France can get away with employing similar sounds and techniques, where vocals are subtly mixed to reveal pop structures on the twentieth or thirtieth listen. But jj’s music is nowhere near as dense or as difficult to dissect, and this approach fails because of it; not once does Air France make such things their songs’ sole moments of interest.
n° 3 was supposedly recorded simultaneously with n° 2, which makes this either a companion album or a collection of non-album-worthy B-sides. This would make sense since, frustratingly, this album simply sounds like their first with inferior production and less-memorable songs. It would explain why the material they’ve released since, like “5 Minuter Med jj,” is significantly better than most of this record, and why none of it merited inclusion on the first album. All of this does, however, leave me curious as to how I would have responded were this the first of the two albums to see release. Divorced from the context of a superior product being available since last July, would this one suddenly seem more compelling?