Being in a band and being in a relationship have a lot of things in common. There’s teamwork and planning involved, which means there are inevitably fights and compromises, and there’s certainly a lot of shared time together. Now, imagine being both in a band and in a relationship with the same person.
There’s been an enormous surge in the amount of bands featuring real or fictitious couples lately. Sonny and Cher set the bar for couple groups over 40 years ago, but more recently The White Stripes, Mommy and Daddy, Mates of State, The Kills, and now John & Jehn have been trying to cut into the indie scene.
John & Jehn resemble The Kills more closely than the others, if only for their collaborative singing and writing efforts. But the French duo hailing from London differentiate themselves from The Kills with some electronic flourishes and a more defined reliance on noise for their eponymous debut.
The record opens with tortured calls of “Oh my God” on DOM and extends a feeling of malaise through three minutes of buildup with lyrics like “Everything is precious, everything counts”. With a repetitive pulsing tone, the song immediately recalls Stars‘ Going, Going, Gone and continues to build with glockenspiel, tambourine, and the addition of acoustic guitar and a chorus of voices. Like the rest of the album, both John and Jehn share unison vocal duties on DOM, giving a chorus effect to the personal lyrics with the result being that if they’re feeling pain, at least they’re feeling it together.
Second track Fear, Fear, Fear opens with a party shuffle beat and soon it is evident that the duo command an impressive diversity of sounds and styles. The tracks are packed to the brim with sounds – rhythmic, repetitive lines surrounded by layers of atmospheric guitars, keyboards and electronic sounds. Everything is surrounded by a faint noise that comes to the fore in certain appropriate spots, like on the moody lumber of I Can See You, which is accented with swirling, demonic guitars and exasperated sighs.
Lyrically, the album maintains a sombre tone throughout. Jehn sings “I can’t pretend everything’s okay… I lose control on reality” on Fear Fear Fear, emitting a desperate plea through the noise of the track. Even on some of the more upbeat numbers, the duo expresses a sense of social isolation and ineptitude: John asks “Does everyone love me only in my dreams?” on Love Me, and its clear that this combination of noise and pain comprise the core of John & Jehn, even though it may be covered up part of the time by pounding dance beats.
John & Jehn split lead vocal duties almost evenly between them. Going along with this sense of balance, there is also an effective mix of slower, introspective-sounding songs like The Fall and You, Far Away put in amongst the sparkling and infectious upbeat dance tunes. 20 L 07, featuring an impressively placed harmonica section, is an electronica dance paradise with the sort of dense production that makes this debut album essential listening. Other tracks like Love Me and Lady Spider explore different avenues of dance with a focus on guitars and noise.
With a running time of just over half an hour, John & Jehn seem to leave the party midway through when the disc finishes spinning. Closing dance number 1, 2, 3 is the only song to fade out on the album, and when its beat starts to trail off, it feels as if the track could easily go on twice as long. With songs that face the pain and torment of neurotic fears, John & Jehn have crafted an absolutely stunning album of beautiful and noisy sounds placed atop slow, steady tempos and invigorating dance beats alike.