Newly capitalised and raring to go, off-kilter Swedes JJ are back, ready to once more dominate our every waking moment with flawless pop and enigmatic tendencies. Let Go was grand, but that seemingly peppy chapter in JJ’s saga has closed; welcome to a darker, more terrifying world. Their new record, V, is brimming with… well, everything. There’s a plethora of gut-blow, heart-rend turmoil. There’s avant-garde dawdles and a veritable truckload of melodic gold. Every direction you turn on V, they’ve whacked the dial up to 11. It’s like they’ve taken themselves to the Build-A-Bear Workshop and left the stuffing machine on. What once had the propensity for sweetness and cheer is now a bulging, weirdly-shaped monstrosity that you can’t quite stop staring at; the more you do, the sadder and bleaker everything looks.
That’s all meant in the nicest possible way, of course.
All White Everything, the tantalising aperitif for V, is a stunning track. Now we’ve all had a chance to discover, devour and digest it, it’s pretty safe to say that it’s one of the year’s finest pop endeavours. It’s excellence from the get-go, with brittle, glacial opening lines from Elin Kastlander: “Time to pray/time to say what’s been on my mind…” She croons, aping a rebellious lead chorister with perfect pipes, as symphonic pads and beats coalesce. As the noise unfurls, it expands, frothing and foaming; the duo just ram in hooks, melodies and harmonies, extra instruments and juddery samples. It’s overwrought and utterly chaotic, but when the breakdown erupts to relative silence – “All white everything from my face to my wings/ all white everything from my nose to my sins…” (does anyone else need to powder their nose?) – the world seems to stop spinning. It’s got a planet-stalling power; the 2005 War Of The Worlds trailer probably sums it up best. Except, y’know, fewer aliens.
They’re not one-trick ponies though. Kastlander and multi-instrumentalist Joakim Benon have proved in the past that there’s no hesitation when it comes to experimenting. Generally frequenting the realms of electro-pop, JJ – especially on 2010 mixtape Kills – are also found of hip-hop, sampling the likes of Biggie, Kanye and Snoop Dogg. They bring that to V in the form of Hold Me, a melodramatic hip-hopera cut you’d swear was a surreal collaboration between A$AP Rocky and Kate Bush; part crystalline ballad, part Gaelic showdown, and part pitch-shifted sadcore slowburn, it’s as strange as it is brilliant.
Rap’s not the only genre they flick between: indie pop, garage rock, classical, electronica, neo-goth, dance and acoustic pop all get cameos. Fågelsången (Birdsong in Swedish) is one of the rare instances where they utilise their native tongue, albeit only for the title. There’s a hint of Patrick Berglund’s sonic insanity as CEO in the oil-slick strings and tribal percussion, where we see the pace accelerate. Inner Light is cutting-edge fractal production melded with the buzz of EDM. Dynasti is a cinematic escapade across space and time. All Ways, Always is a chamber-garage ditty with tropical beats, dusty rock riffs and a string quartet seemingly raised in Narnia. Don’t expect JJ to keep still on V.
Though scattershot emotional mayhem, this album is a resounding triumph. JJ, apparently unencumbered by expectation and obligation – in interviews the pair have stressed that this album isn’t even for fans, but rather themselves – may not sound exactly the same as they did upon first incarnation, but reinvention has never been the worst thing in the world. JJ have always relied on a certain degree of mystique. We thought that perhaps we had them figured out one their prior releases, but it turns out we couldn’t have been more wrong; this new, grand-pop side to the outfit is the regal, majestic, Shakespearian tragedy counterpoint to the impish, scrappy, vaguely malevolent beginnings. They’ve taken a fearless and self-cented approach, indulging in their own zany whims. Where 99% stumble, JJ prosper.