So long as the Swedes continue to flatter Americans listeners, American listeners will continue to love them. There’s just something endlessly tickling about hearing the rock ’n’ roll canon sung back to us with a Scandinavian accent. It’s the sound of the world’s whitest people embracing the world’s blackest music, and that awkward cultural exchange always makes for interesting listening.
Johnossi — a Swedish rock duo whose first names you can probably guess — has crafted a big-hearted, sloppy tribute to the confused racket of American rock ’n’ roll with its debut album. Guitarist John Engelbert and drummer Ossi Bonde need only each other to fill a room with raucous sound — think of them as the Black Keys one step further removed from the Delta Blues. But beneath all of that yowling showmanship lies a bitter pill of an album, one spiced with little pinches of cynicism and doubt.
“Man Must Dance” stands out as the most ear-grabbing tune on the set list, from the casual lope of its acoustic-guitar riff to Bonde’s subtle interjections on percussion. But then those creationist-baiting lyrics pop up, and suddenly Johnossi is working on a whole new level of intrigue: “We’re the people/ The happy with the broken hearts/ The ones who draw a picture and proclaim that it’s art/ But you, and you, and you and you/ You’re just an animal developed into,” sings Engelbert, as if pointing a wild finger to the members of his audience.
Nothing else collected here lives up to that arresting standard, but there are other moments of solid rock abandon. “Execution Song” improbably transforms an acoustic guitar into a thunderous killing machine with just a few effects pedals, resulting in the record’s best head rush. Opener “The Show Tonight” mixes in a hint of Johnossi’s softer side, with nostalgic memories of “sand,” “Mom” and “caramels” shoved between thoughts on disillusionment and mortality.
Like most debuts, the latter half of the record lags behind the first, both in its rock tunes (“Rescue Team”) and its balladry (the final two tracks). With the limited tools at its disposal, the duo can’t help but sound generic at times. Thankfully, Johnossi is one buzz artist that never suffers for a lack of enthusiasm. It might not be their native terrain, but these two Swedes are having a blast exploring what they can do in rock music’s playground.
“Man Must Dance” video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kAc-nnuteHQ
“Execution Song” video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ggV9IGJGrcg