jj are, intentionally, a fairly mysterious band. The duo seemed to appear out of nowhere earlier last year, producing blissfully sweet indie pop that had immediate appeal. In a year when Animal Collective and Dirty Projectors were moving experimental sensibilities toward the mainstream, jj sounded like they were headed in the opposite direction. It’s a vision that has steered them well thus far, and they’ve stuck with it on their sophomore release. It is easy to imagine the songs on jj n°3 as avant garde house remixes of bubblegum pop tunes.
The band, rather than pushing their pseudo-derivative mainstream pop inclinations into the background, confront and embrace them immediately on jj n°3. Opening track "My Life" covers Lil Wayne's autotuned chorus from The Game's song of the same name - the lyrics of which are drawn from Birdman's "So Tired" - before concluding with the ubiquitous chorus from ATC's techno megahit "Around the World," which itself was a cover of Ruki Vverh's "Pesenka." Re-read that sentence and try to process it, I dare you. In equation form:
Or something like that. I think calculus might get involved somewhere along the line. Regardless, the point is that it's a bit of a curveball of a first track that certainly encapsulates the diversity of influences convergent in jj’s music. “My Life” kicks the album off on a strange note, sure, but that note – however out-of-left-field it may be – does not linger for long.
Immediately, recollections of “My Life” are swept away by the vaguely Caribbean drums and synthesized strings of “And Now,” which in turn are swept away by the harmonica introduction to the album’s third track and first single, “Let Go.” From one song to the next, lush and worldly instrumental tracks back Elin Kastlander’s dreampop vocals, each addictive and catchy enough to eliminate any memory of the preceding track. Every song from jj n°3 can and will get stuck in your head – which song gets lodged only depends on which song you listen to last.
In rare interviews, jj’s Kastlander and Joakim Benon are cryptic and opaque. Their music is anything but. Their second album is immediate and listener friendly, albeit imbued with darker undertones. The duo is ultra-melodic, consistently building songs around the framework of a contagious hook. At times, jj n°3 borders on melodic overload; some salt might be nice to balance out the sugary production. The songs that work best – like “Into The Light” and “Voi Parlate, lo Gioco” – are peppered with drum machines, vocal samples, and audio clips from soccer matches, a quick palate cleanse that only makes the record more delectable.
I hate to lump jj in with other Swedish artists, but it’s difficult to ignore the similarities between Kastlander’s voice and those of fellow countrywomen Taken By Trees, Lykke Li, and El Perro Del Mar. Paint those artists with the sonic brush of The XX, and you begin to approximate the sound captured on jj n°3. It’s a beautiful landscape, and the second stellar album from the duo in the last twelve months. But you get the feeling it’s not the end of the road for this duo. With hints at hip hop mixtapes, rumors of collaborations with The XX, and any number of questions swirling around this enigmatic pair, it only remains to see what they have in store for the next sweet go-round. B+