Swedish pop mastermind Jonna Lee is on her most personal mission yet. Having received considerable acclaim for her iamamiwhoami collaboration with Claes Björklund, Lee is now taking her own name and going solo. With that move comes a bold shift in musical thinking, throwing caution to the icy wind with a hugely ambitious opus, sung from the rooftops.
Once again Lee offers a visual complement in the form of an hour-long feature film, incorporating the music of the album. The beautifully shot scenery reflects the clean, strong lines of the music, not to mention its intensity.
For these are powerfully wrought songs. Joy, with its big chorus “this is the sound of joy”, is full of wide-eyed exultation. Lee’s voice completely dominates the music, but there is still plenty of interest in the working parts. Not Human is a tower of strength, a song of resolve that really sticks in the head. Samaritan is similarly hard hitting, underpinned by a powerful bass lick that Lee sharpens with the lower end of her piano. Its lyrics are lofty, Lee singing “If I am what you say, I expect to be hanging from a wooden cross. When all this is done, it’s done!”
Many of the songs have this outdoors bluster, but some arrive as if by stealth. Dunes Of Sand begins as a stately duet with Jamie Irrepressible, his warm, husky tones complementing the icy Lee. Then unexpectedly, with a minute to go, it breaks cover, transformed from a slow torch song to the middle of the dancefloor. By contrast Blazing is out of the blocks pretty much immediately, a cutting piece of electro that throws some thrilling shapes, high on adrenaline.
There is a good mix of the conventional and unconventional here. Lee often sticks with the familiar pop music structure of verse, chorus and bridge, but has subtle and meaningful amendments up her sleeve. Her voice is so versatile that her register can dip one minute and soar the next, using soft, deep notes in Simmer Down but floating high above the textures for the husky delivery of Samaritan. The instrumentation is imaginatively used, and there are small but highly effective changes to her building blocks of chords and melody, the music liable to an unexpected shift in direction.
The voice is certainly penetrating, reminiscent of Zola Jesus at its most powerful. Yet at times this can be a hindrance, and certainly compromises the feelings of intimacy that might have come through songs like Here Is A Warning, in spite of the reverberant synths. Harvest is also a curiosity, the disembodied vocal far back in the mix as the pummelling four to the floor beat sets in.
There is no doubt that Everyone Afraid To Be Forgotten is a hugely ambitious piece of work, and it throws a lot of effort into the creative process while making use of the considerable guile Lee has with her best electronic work. At times it could do with more of this, for its biggest tracks are overblown, and it does threaten to overstay its welcome at an hour and five minutes.
That said, it holds nothing back and packs a considerable punch at its best, hitting the bullseye more often than not. It is another stepping stone in Jonna Lee’s development, and with her versatility demonstrated here it will be interesting to plot her next direction.