Jay-Jay Johanson – Cockroach

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[Reviewed by Peter Marks]

Jay-Jay and his broken, remorseful heart are at it again. To live in this guy’s world (as I’ve done for some years now) is to be given only nadir. You get no sunshine on your face, you receive only mistrust and suspicion. Whoever these women in his life have been, they dominate his vocal landscape above all else. I wonder what he does when he isn’t reminiscing on romance gone wrong, does he go for a walk in the park? Perhaps a light supper and then down to the cinema for a bit of escape from his own thoughts.

He remains the absolute master of conversational lyrics. When people bemoan the lack of singer/songwriters out there clearly they have not heard Mr. Johanson or his penchant to bring out only the pain which love so often draws itself from. Only through the continual loss of hope do we somehow grasp and grope our way out of the darkness towards that glimmer of light… yet Jay-Jay, for all these possibilities, is determined to remain there. He wants no contentment, he pushes fulfillment away as if it were little more than a feral cat scratching at the door. His songs play out like recriminatory indexes towards both himself and those whose lives he has, at one point, been a part of.

What arrangements he drapes over his uniquely sour words are unusually effective at adding emphasis to the poison pen letters he has for his muse(s). His trip-hop origins in the 90s are not to be heard on here, they’ve pretty much been shelved since those days. Breaking with the tradition his last two records have been basted with, the electronics are pushed a bit more to the fore to provide additional structure and stability to compositions which I’d say are demanding to listen to.

“I know I’ve got some problems, but so do you.” No one is right or wrong the way he sees it, people get so easily entangled in each others little intrigues. To reveal yourself so completely through the tunes you make as he does is akin to lying back in the bath, opening your veins and then breathing in your own demise dreamily. I keep my own cards close to the vest, but not Jay-Jay. He’s more than happy to let you see it all, no matter how ugly it gets or how messily things end. People, places, perceptions… like postcards sent from someone you have never met yet gives you their complete confidence, Johanson’s vulnerability remains aching like a wound which will not heal.

You don’t notice it until you bend or twist a certain way and then suddenly that rough, unyielding scar tissue reminds you of where you’ve been. This is what his latest is to me. Don’t put this on and expect to emerge unscathed, that isn’t this man’s goal. He’ll bring it out of you whether you admit or not so it’s best not to fight. His own doubts and reflections on the human condition make for fascinating listening as always, perhaps it is his curiosity which has led him to have the style he does. I just don’t want him to ever stop.

Jay-Jay Johanson –  Cockroach
CD, 2013
Universal Music

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