There’s something fairly brave about releasing two albums within a year, as the Swedish duo jj has done. Although a similar approach has worked well for others (see Vampire Weekend and Los Campesinos!), the risk is great. Unless you are established enough to have a devoted fanbase, you may alienate your barely together audience by unwantedly bombarding them with more music before they’re ready. If the Internet has done one thing for music, it’s oversaturate the market. Tracks fly by with such speed, and through so many variously remixed lenses, that the act of simply being a fan has become harder than ever before. Being dedicated has never required more dedication.
At least thematically, however, jj are uniquely placed. Their first album, the unhelpfully titled jj n°2, paid tribute to hedonistic excess in unashamed, gorgeous, ambient tones. While the recession may have killed the party for some, the dream was still being archived in audio form. What was developed here was a narrative, and that narrative could be explored in various ways.
So it’s somewhat to the detriment of this band that they decide to opt for the slightly more predictable come-down record in jj n°3. From soulful opener “My Life” to the appropriately titled “No Escapin’ This,” it’s clear that this is some kind of response to the previous album. The music is tinged with sorrowful refrain, although we as listeners are never quite sure of the source of that sorrow. It’s a trope that doesn’t add substance or content to a recording that feels more like an EP than a full-length. (The running time, a miserly 27 minutes, doesn’t help much in this regard.) The tracks feel more like extended sketches than anything else. “My Life,” where one beautifully sung melody is repeated over one chord progression but never properly developed, is a missed opportunity, a trait that haunts this album through and through.
This music is never really going anywhere, but there is at least the sense that jj are producing something that is fundamentally worthwhile. That ultimately sustains the record as being something more than a pleasant distraction — and that feeling is rewarded with the penultimate “You Know,” a simple, effective pop number.
On the one hand, n°3 can sound frustrating unfinished. It seems as though something substantially more satisfying would have been attained had the band just stuck with it for a while longer. On the other, it’s an enjoyable enough distraction not without its merits. Just don’t think of it as the proper progression from n°2.