Preceded by an eerie teaser trailer and its two lead singles, “All White Everything” and “Dean & Me,” V is classic JJ with a few surprises in tow. The fifth numerical release and third studio album of Swedish producer Joakim Benon and vocalist Elin Kastlander has mad flow, minimalist synth, Balearic beat, and a good attempt at an organic instrumental style. The full album is currently streaming via NPR and will be available via Secretly Canadian on August 19th.
The album’s balance tugs between a figure skater’s fairytale and a cavernous tragedy, and the two aforementioned singles accurately exemplify each of these auras.
“All White Everything” infuses warm violin with a stepping electronic bass line, then layers on a concert piano; here’s your ‘Elsa in her ice palace’ scene as Kastlander breathes, “Go do what you need / Don’t stop till you bleed.” Cue a sparkly pixie-dusted flourish as the song advances into the lyrically twisted chorus. (“All white everything / From my face to my wings / All white everything / From my nose to my sins.”) Here, I’m digging the head-to-toe white trend.
“Dean & Me,” on the other hand, is a minimalist pop and non-sexual redux of Beyonce’s “Drunk in Love.” The wistful pre-chorus “Something inside me tells me we could be forever / But something inside we will never be… together / Together” is followed immediately by icy choral harmonies, then a Lesley Gore / Drake grab. The gospel? Probably Dean’s best feature. The Drizzy? Not for Me.
Much of Benon’s production on V belongs to an edgy, early civilization biopic – edgy, as if Jay-Z had been the musical director. “Dynasti,” for example, introduces Kastlander’s familiar airy vocals with a Vangelis-esque combination of well-timed timpani, euphoric cymbal crashes, and a marching string section. Towards the end of the more classic JJ bracket of the record, “Hold Me” opens with a groundbreaking hip-hop verse – “This shit so slow / I’m in the city where the chicks are,” and Kastlander sings the biopic’s viewers into the last goodbye of their hero’s tragic love story – “Fuck it [our] world is a mess / But just for now / Hold me,” while Benon’s electronic washes circle the lovers, two black crows looming.
Some things are just not meant to be; things, such as “Be Here Now” and “All Ways, Always,” that border JJ’s usual territory. The former is slow and boring: Kastlander’s voice is nothing extraordinary in the sparse, folk ballad environment it is given. The latter? A rock piece — exactly what I was expecting for the finale. (End sarcasm.) Once again, the track’s shortcomings result from a vocal timbre ill-equipped for its surroundings. Kastlander’s is not quite aggressive or viscous enough to match the naturally heavier organic instrumentals on “All Ways, Always.”
V’s victorious moments (the meteor shower melodies on “Full” and “I,” a love song with a taller meaning: “what is life if we can’t live together as one?”) are victorious. Its uninspiring stretches are, well, uninspiring. There are its absolutely conflicting emotions on the regular, cropping up in the strange cacophony of autotune, Balearic Beat, and strings on “Fågelsågen.” Another short-coming, the inter-band miscommunication on “Inner Light,” occurs when Kastlander goes thug and Benon (seemingly without the memo) provides her with twinkly glockenspiel and ambient synth washes before really coming to light in the last minute, with a squealing guitar and vocal distortion.
As a screen feature, V keeps its audience engaged and on the edge of their seats. And that’s not out of the ordinary for the cutting-edge duo. But as a twisted, twisting plotline, the record has a hit-or-miss denouement that would only be included in the director’s cut of the film; it’s less than extraordinary after “I.” Regardless, happy fifth, JJ – few things remain this tasteful when the brazenly flashy and artsy meek live congruously for so long.
Revisit the trailer below.