jj n° 2
out July 2009
Summer is an elusive season. It is almost always feels too short, and is often defined more by anticipation before and nostalgia after than actual substance. How many times did you really make it to the beach this year? It is a season of ardor, until the temperature—like all passion—fades. Half the fun of summer is giving in to the nostalgia after the fact, fondly washing over the memories with a hazy veneer, romanticizing the good and the bad. Just as winters always become “the worst” and “the coldest” ever, summers always become “the best.” Even bad summers are referred to as “the most painful” in a way that reveals the enjoyment borne of that pain.
Nostalgia is a principle character in jj’s debut full-length album, jj n° 2. The opening cut, “Things Will Never Be The Same” announces it, and nine tracks later, “Me and My Dean” serves as a lo fi goodbye to that nostalgic journey. Then album ends, just over 26 minutes after it started, and like the summer, it is gone—a mysterious, almost magical experience.
jj is an elusive group, almost entirely unknown, mysteriously intentioned and tantalizingly inviting. jj n° 2 is an equally elusive album, with lots of heart—particularly present in the acoustic guitar that meanders its way in and out of record, grabbing you by the chest in songs like “Are You Still In Valla.” In its brief journey, jj n° 2 manages to convey all the joy, angst, calm and restlessness of the summer months, wrapped in a youthful vigor that sounds fresh even after countless replays.
However, the album is not all heart; it balances youthful innocence with an edge that is hard to pin, and with a good deal of tongue-in-cheek.
Like all summer experiences, there is the summer “jam,” taking the form of the curve-ball third track “Ecstasy” that sits right in the traditional spot for a single, waiting to throw into question your perception of the album. Here, jj covers Lil’ Wayne’s “Lollipop” and drags it through a lethargic yet compelling haze, shifting it’s signature hip hop lilt into something more subversive, yet equally brash in its own manner.
The album, like all good art, is a prism that not only rewards different angles of approach, but encourages them. It is easy to question with what degree of seriousness the album should be approached because it rewards a carefree listen and contemplative one. While built around nostalgia, it never overly dwells in it. In songs like “Are You Still In Valla” the emotion sits comfortably, almost demur in its calm assurance. In “My Love” the lyrics and delivery suggest the earnestness a traditional singer-songwriter set. However, all the tracks reference a bubbly exuberance most directly translated in “From Africa to Málaga.”
Just like its makers, jj n° 2 never fully lets on what it is all about. It always manages to stay ambiguous and just beyond grasp, flitting from song to song, none over 4 minutes. With the speed at which the tracks change and the short time before the album is over, it is necessary to repeat once you get to the end, to look back and reassess, and with each listen the album gets better, the angles more precise. It is a summer album, but one that you can take with you in autumn, that you can listen to as you look back, repeat after repeat, reliving and romanticizing the shortest of the seasons.