I didn’t realise people still made albums like this, but I’m damned glad that they do. Well, that John Johanna does anyway. Even before you immerse yourself in the music you encounter a mercurial air that hangs above its sonic presence, one that swirls with the sparse lo-fi technology of studios past and a feeling that this is all about the music rather than any gimmickry or unnecessary polish. I’m not saying that it is in any way scrappy or unpolished, I’m saying that it doesn’t need to be and doing so would probably detract from the purity of the music rather than bring anything useful to the table.
Musical it wanters between 60’s psyched out pop and acid folk and the modern era’s indie bands who have completed the circle and revisited those times as a reaction to the corporate commerciality of the modern industry. But apart from the music it also wanders further back in time in spirit too. If musically you can place the sound it in a small basement club in Ladbroke Grove courtesy of an enlightened but brooding promoter fed up with the hippy-dippyism of the Summer of Love going on outside, pull at its threads and it takes you back even further in time. Bound takes in remembered conversations about Promethean mythology and World Unknown is centred around 18th century theological writings. Neither does it limit itself to purely western ideas, Knowledge and Power, Nathaniel in particular grooving on an Indian raga.
It is an exploratory album, one which heads off in so many directions, into academia, non-western musicality, spirituality and any number of ideas which see east and west, occident and orient, clashing in a wonderfully creative way. Combining the folk delicacy of Nick Drake, the soaring delivery of Jeff Buckley and the outsider thought process of Tom Waits, I’m happy to report that he rarely sounds like any of those. In fact it only ever sounds like John Johanna, which is as it should be.