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Sun August 3, 2014
First Listen: JJ, 'V'
Originally published on Wed August 13, 2014 5:25 am
For those trying to keep track of the Swedish duo JJ — previously known by the lowercase iteration jj — V is not its fifth album. (It's the third.) Then again, 2009's break-out jj n° 2 wasn't the group's second album, but rather its debut; N°3 followed. There's always been an internal logic underpinning what Joakim Benon and Elin Kastlander do as JJ. Take the last song on jj n° 2, "Me & Dean," a forlorn acoustic ballad that contrasts with the warm pop elsewhere on that album. That song borrowed a line from Taylor Dayne's 1987 single "Tell It to My Heart" and extended the sentiment.
Five years on, V features a single titled "Dean & Me." Now there are gurgling electronics and a more pronounced kick drum in the production as Kastlander quotes Lesley Gore's 1964 hit "It's My Party." But she also quotes Drake's variation on that same line from "Take Care." Fans might recall how in 2009, jj co-opted Lil Wayne's "Lollipop" for "Ecstasy," or how the group repurposed a beat from The-Dream for a more gentle song.
On V, JJ strikes the most curious balance yet between such polar opposites, drawing from cringe-worthy soft pop, indie-rock, and cutting-edge R&B and hip-hop. Kastlander has a voice as warm and fragile as any in independent music, but she's just as inclined to infuse it with hip-hop's braggadocio. Take the opulent piano balladry of "All White Everything," in which Kastlander states in her most fragile voice, "What you know 'bout that?"
"Fågelsången" shows how JJ amalgamates many conflicting sounds into a sumptuous whole. Benon crafts a tropical beat that sounds like an ad for Carnival Cruise Lines, then adds swirling strings that swoop down to add dramatic flourishes, as well as pitched voices that mimic Minnie Riperton's upper register. But then it all strips back to reveal a nylon-string guitar and a hushed plea: "I need you / I don't need you." Kastlander then adds: "Oh no / I never said 'Oh no.'" With each line, she switches her position, perfectly encapsulating what any good twee-pop or Drake song can do: show a heart in conflict.