Album Reviews

jj – No 3

(Secretly Canadian) UK release date: 3 May 2010

Little is widely known about jj. Indeed, at the time of their debut album’s release last year, nobody even knew how many people were in the band, what they looked like or what their names were.

Less than a year on from that release we know that jj comprises the Swedish duo Joakim Benon and Elin Kastlander, but that’s about it. It’s a suitably enigmatic tale for an enigmatic sound – all glacial synths, laid-back beats and soothing vocals with something of a narcotic haze about them. For, if there is indeed one thing we do know about jj, it’s that they like their drugs.

That debut album’s cover simply featured a cannabis leaf, and there are plenty of lyrical references to drugs here too – Let Go refers to an “overdose on heroin” while most of the tracks are covered with a euphoric yet downbeat sheen.

Perhaps the album’s most glaring weakness though is starting with its strongest track. My Life may be only two minutes long, but it’s extraordinary. A cover version of The Game track (more specifically, just Lil Wayne‘s guest appearance on the chorus), it reworks the original into a stately piano ballad acting as an elegy to lost friends. It’s a stunningly fragile introduction, and the album never quite hits those heights again.

For, while there’s a lot of promise here, at only half an hour long No 3 feels rather insubstantial. The shimmering Into The Light has an ecstatic tone to it, but never really seems to go anywhere, while Light – consisting of simply an acoustic guitar, whistling and some mumbled vocals – is so flimsy it nearly falls apart. Although Kastlander has a great voice, there’s sometimes a danger of relying on it too strongly.

Other tracks work better, with Let Go sounding like a contender for comedown track of the year at every Balearic hotspot this summer, right down to the sound of waves lapping against the shore at its end. A South American football commentator appears for some bizarre reason at the start of Voi Parlate Lo Gioco, but the winningly dreamy atmosphere soon soaks through to pleasing effect.

With each track having a similarly dreamy air, it’s not long before the songs begin to meld one into another. It all sounds nice enough, but there’s no bite, no grit – at the risk of damning with faint praise, much of the album makes for pleasant background listening.

At 29 minutes long, No 3 can’t be accused of overstaying its welcome. Yet it suffers by comparison with its predecessor – a short album can’t afford to have any filler tracks like Golden Virginia, for example. This may have worked better as an EP rather than a full album. But as it is, it may prove rather too somnolent for long-term listening.

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jj – No 3