By Kaylen Hann | 19 July 2011
Personal muse to my recent, favorite new artist Vacation Dad’s Andy Todryk, Yohuna (yo-HUN-ah) is the twenty-year-old, woodwind-voiced Johanne Swanson. Out of Michigan, transplanted in New Mexico, Swanson’s lo-fi, peyote-induced synth dream of an EP has washed into the MJMJ pool of artists with a surprising and deservedly successful reception. Released in January, Revery’s first wave of cassettes, featuring four A-side tracks and a roughly thirteen-minute B-side ambient/drone track also featuring Vacation Dad, sold out almost as soon as they sprung up on Bandcamp. “She’s the girl that all my songs are about” indeed.
A collaborative B-side track and a previous vocal contribution to Vacation Dad’s single “I Hope Yr Favorite Color Is Everywhere” are all that have so far comprised the iceberg-tip of the two artists’ cross-pollination. The emergence of more makes perfect sense: with Todryk’s faceted and generously layered production, recording, and mixing, there’s a rush of aesthetic overlap—and even specific, atmospheric, or ornamental treatments—between their projects. For example, eruptions of sparkler-bright synths during Revery’s opening track “Keep Apnea” are, bright note for bright note, identical to Vacation Dad’s “I’ll Always Find You.” It doesn’t seem so much like a revelation, or a carefully couched secret, as it does just a logical continuity between two artists in aesthetic sync.
Ushering in gusts of Midwestern humidity and refreshing lake winds, careening through parched New Mexico deserts, Swanson’s vocals blow about the songs in elongated streams. Like weather currents, they affect and infuse the surrounding instrumental landscapes with warmth or soothing chills, depending on what you’re wearing or what part of the country you call home. Low and hazy, the often-nebulous lyrics rarely fall away from the song enough to be discernible, but in the moments they are, they’re particularly touching. In “Keep Apnea,” for instance, the song spins in a vertigo-like high around the vocals, only unfurling during the final refrain: “You shake me still when I try to sleep.”
In “Mateo” Swanson shifts into Grimes-like, high-pitched intro vocals, these blearily suspended over craggy and pockmarked synths, over throbbing beats, gradually fed into with crisper claps, flicks of percussion, and slim guitar peals. “It’s All Yours,” a more densely orchestrated track, its distortion thicker than the pea-soup quality of Chicago humidity of late, is a garbage-y mess of rhythm, roughing-up the EP’s texture in a climactic direction but never spilling over completely into melodrama. The beats of final Yohuna track, “Hometown Key,” relinquish noisiness and reverberate with a bass that sounds like it’s getting the wind knocked out of it. Husky, not to mention wheezy, it pushes up behind dark synths, airy chorals, and hot breaths of distortion, the steam billowing into the track’s cold front. “Key” climbs impressively, volume-wise, full of “ahhhhh”s and “oooooh”s broken up with a duo of delicate, triangle “ping-ping!”s. She manages to keep each song graceful, interesting, and steady, despite its sometimes stormy innards.
While it’s easy to sense a collaborative nature throughout the entire length of Revery, bonus track “Adonis” prominently pitches itself as a hand-in-hand effort between Todryk and Swanson. And, strangely enough, it’s the one that sounds least like either artist’s material. Entirely ambient, it’s a heavy and lengthy drone of guitar, like someone’d canned the sounds of a far-off lawnmower. While still an easily enjoyable listen, it doesn’t hand over a pleasure identical to the rest of the EP. Which is encouraging, hearing these two artists bring out latent or even completely unforeseen qualities in one another. Is that what love is? Whatever the base sentiment of their musical exchange, it’s an emphatically beneficial one I’m interested in seeing develop ever deeper.