I’ve told the story before, but for those who haven’t been here before, I’ll tell it again: I downloaded jj nº 2 on a whim when it first leaked to the blogs. I downloaded it on a whim, after seeing it get Best New Music on Pitchfork, and stuck it on my Zune. One day, on the bus, I put it on, expecting some spazzed out guitars and, frankly, something that sounded vaguely like Girls if they lost the production value they don’t quite have. I was greeted with some of the most flawless pop music I have heard in years, and I’m still hooked. After tracking down every last scrap of music I could find and ordering jj nº 2 from Sincerely Yours for $30, I got more and more excited for jj nº 3 to come out. It’s not officially out until March, but I have it now, ‘neath my hot little fingers. With all that I was looking forward to, as high as the ceiling was after the extended earplay that their first full-length got, could they manage to satisfy?
The short answer, as you won’t be surprised to hear, is that yes, after three or four listens, it’s plenty satisfying. In the 6 months since jj nº 2 was released, they have grown a fair amount, between a series of covers (Of the Welcome Back, Kotter theme, Akon’s “Troublemaker,” a Swedish rap song) and a guest DJ spot on Swedish radio where they sampled Charles Manson and the intro to The xx’s debut. They haven’t grown in sound, but there is definitely a lot more structure to be had here. The 28 minutes that proceed are constructed almost flawlessly, playing with their already signature sound as much as they can get away with.
“My Life,” the opening track, begins in exactly the opposite place that they started — and ended — the last time around, with a simple piano progression, in a minor key. “Dear lord, you took so many of my people, I’m just wondering why you haven’t taken my life? What the hell am I doing right?” the woman sings, sounding nothing short of exhausted. It’s a dark and brooding two minutes, and possibly the darkest territory the band has breached thus far.
This, however, doesn’t last very long, as “And Now” begins with violins and a sweeping rhythm section. “And now, when the end is near, I know you meant every tear you gave to me that year/We were all alone when the sunlight hit our bones, as the stream carried us home/Take it for what it’s worth, those days we walked the earth, remember how much it hurts/just a tiny taste, don’t let it go to waste,” she sings in a voice that betrays a sense of hope, rather than sorrow. jj’s knack for simplistic beauty has gotten stronger in record time, proving that, for all that the band is worth, there is something to grab on to in the breezy orchestration. Indeed, this may be their strongest suit: the perfect ability to deliver, in earnest, the most simplistic (and yet perfect) lyrics possible: “Let Go,” the album’s first single, begins like a line from an Animal Collective song: “All I have left is my soul, fall left me with this winter so cold.” The way everything in pieced together almost makes you feel foolish for not having considered something so simple already. “Let Go” also demonstrates the band’s flair for toying with dynamic shifts and instrumental swells, growing into a drum beat heavy swoop, completing the “Brothersport”-esque life affirmation: “Let go, and let your skin show that you’ve been in the sun today.”
The one thing that truly sets jj apart is the clear and present influence of modern hip-hop in the lyrics and sound. It dates back to jj nº 1 when they inconspicuously reinterpret T.I.’s “My Swag,” and continuing through the Weezy-jocking “Ecstasy,” and “Let Go” b-side “My Way.” “Voi Parlate, Io Gioco” (Italian for “You talk, I play”) dances around while the woman delivers a small measure of grinning cleverness. “Voi Parlate” may be the finest example of how willing jj is to toy with their own M.O., without the hassle of changing their style.
jj nº 3 never quite stays in the same place for very long, but this is what is to be expected, and the band can’t be blamed for being in so many places in the 28 minutes that the album lasts. However unlike jj nº 2, you get the feeling that everything is exactly where it was needed, and there is never a point where things peter off. “Voi Parlate” gives way to “Golden Virgina,” a song that builds ever so slowly with murky beats under the echoed vocals. “You Know” jumps right back into the sunlight with a pretty little love song: “I try and tell my friends, but they think I’m insane/When you’re around, there’s no need to explain,” in a tone that almost gives a wink to the layer of child-like happiness that lies beneath it all. We end with “No Escapin’ This,” which plays like the quieter twin of “Masterplan” from the last record: “I’m just a kid with my breath to lose,” the woman explains, talking about her life as she sees it: “I’m always on vacation, blame it on my occupation. Sentenced 20 to life, no escapin’ this!”
“No Escapin’ This” lasts just under three minutes, but never quite builds and bursts like its sonic counterparts usually do. jj nº 3 ends without a burst and bloom, leaving you wanting something else. Indeed, this is likely what they wanted: for you to want more. I’m okay with wanting more. jj is a band that I will keep watching until the music stops, because there is, as much as I hate to say it so much, something special to be had here. I’ll be completely and totally honest and say that it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a band with so much promise, and a band that sounded so different. What they’re doing here is just so simple, but everything about it is put together in a way that almost seems unfair, because it’s just too easy. Simply put, if you don’t have your eyes on them, you should do what you can to change that, and if you miss out, don’t say I didn’t warn you. They’re in their own world, and you still have a chance to keep up with them.
You couldn’t duplicate this shit if they told you how to, man.