out on 6.22
Spend some time in the stoner pop corners of YouTube and you’ll come across a familiar debate: how bad is lyrical simplicity, really? One defensive commenter will cite early Beatles tracks, while another claims that a lack of complexity is this genre’s greatest fault. What it really comes down to, though, is the way these lyrics mesh with an artist’s sound.
Swedish pop duo jj isn’t exactly known for brilliant lyrics or high-brow poeticism. Their first two LPs matched dreamy synth layers with Elin Kastlander’s honey vocals and simplistic lyrics. Both albums fell solidly into the sun-soaked, pot-fueled side of chillwave, and jj’s songs oozed with the sounds of lost love and half-forgotten druggy nights. The lyrics came off not as uninspired, but rather unpretentious. Unfortunately, this approach has gotten a little old.
The group’s latest EP is the aptly named High Summer, a collection of gentle, hazy tracks that, while not unappealing, certainly verge on immature. The EP is packed with crisp sounds that point to a new direction for the Swedish pair. Yet these highlights only carry the EP so far.
High Summer opens with its dreamy title track, a great composition held back by its immature lyrics. At one point, Kastlander describes her dog: “she is black and white / fuck segregation.” For some artists, these jokes fit perfectly into their sound. But in a track as trancelike and mythical as “High Summer,” jj’s cutesy jokes and rapper-like swagger jar you unpleasantly out of your hazy reverie. Next comes “10,” an eloquent exploration of young fame that samples The-Dream’s “Shawty Is The Shit.” On undoubtedly the best track on the album, jj incorporates their hip-hop influences perfectly. Engaging and poetic, “10” manages to convey a sense of Kanye-like confidence without becoming overzealous or laughable.
“My Name,” a foggy 50-second interlude, is followed by “Big Hearts, Big Dreams.” With its urgent percussion and melodic vocals, the latter would have been at home on either of jj’s full-length efforts. Yet “Big Hearts, Big Dreams,” an apparent exercise in uncompelling lyrics and monotonous instrumentation, isn’t terribly interesting. For this track, and arguably for the entire EP, jj have made little effort to leave their comfort zone. It’s not that their style is bad or unpleasant, but they seem to believe they have explored all of their options. “Times,” the final, unstructured track, proves that jj must now make an age-old choice: adapt or die.
High Summer meanders through familiar territory, calling on tropes of chillwave and stoner pop and occasionally touching on brilliance. Sadly, inspiration never lingers for more than a moment. The EP is weakened by immature lyricism and a lack of innovation, but its high points could hint at a bright future for this pair of real-life lovers. Burdened with tired images of carefree summer nights and cutesy jokes, the five songs of High Summer fail to form a compelling release and only gets a pass because it was given away for free.