By Mariana Garces
Singer-songwriters Jenny Lewis and boyfriend, Scottish-American Johnathan
Rice, have been contributing their musical skills to each other’s albums since they met, but now they have decided to finally record an album together in search of a new sound.
On the band’s website, ‘Jenny and Johnny’ are proud to declare their new endeavor is supposed to be nothing like their past albums, instead trading their solo sounds for what they describe as something “tougher around the edges”.
Rice originally got into the same scene as her when working with music producer
Mike Mogis, who had worked with Bright Eyes, Rilo Kiley and The Faint. The couple attributes their relationship to Bright Eyes front man Conor Oberst, who introduced the two in 2005. Rice later joined Jenny on her tour for Rabbit Fur Coat in 2006 and even helped produce Jenny Lewis’ album Acid Tongue in 2008.
I had high hopes for this album not only as a She and Him fan (of similar retro duo Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward) but also as a Jenny Lewis fan. As hard as it is to admit, the proof of the style change is in the lackluster riffs and subdued singing of a female singer I usually hold above all others in the business for her unique boldness and ability to make heartbreak or satire sound beautiful or funny. The album starts off with the indie love song ‘Scissor Runner,’ but this is not the southwestern, bold and political Jenny Lewis that fans from her Rilo Kiley days are used to. While the two singers’ voices harmonize nicely and switch smoothly back and forth, as most indie-rock couples usually fight, neither voice stands out. Some tracks, like ‘Switchblade’ are sharp jabs at the cruelty of the music business, but Lewis’ vocals are barely there and the pop rock tone is pretty subdued. The best standout track, ‘Big Wave,’ is a criticism of California’s recent economic meltdown with a catchy beach sound akin to California surf pop group Best Coast and unsurprisingly Lewis is in charge of lead vocals. Another good track with a much darker tone is ‘Animal,’ which rings more like a Bright Eyes song with its folk-pop sound and religious allusions like “if you lose your fear of God, you are an animal at heart.”
It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to sound like Bright Eyes, since both artists are less than six degrees from Oberst, but it’s an arch across genres to switch the mood so much from the album’s other tracks. Essentially, Jonathan Rice’s voice has a much different texture and tone to it than Jenny Lewis’s, and the mixture of the two is like putting vodka in your coffee. Both are strong and great separate, but slightly diluted and just strange tasting when mixed together.
She and Him, The Ting Tings, The Moldy Peaches, Sleigh Bells, The White Stripes, The Dresden Dolls—all these guy/girl duos who learned how to make great music together and keep the relationship bullshit out of the way. True, some of these bands are broken up now, but when they were good, they were great. Not to foreshadow the breakup of this lovely indie couple, as they have known each other for a while and are now touring the world, but if they are going to go down as a rock duo on the official Wikipedia page that I just read off of, they might have to tinker with the coffee:vodka ratio.