(4 / 5)
Debut release from quirky and unique Swedish singer songwriter Johanna Lillvik, offering five self-penned five songs that almost defy description. Nods to the likes of Kate Bush and Bjork perhaps, and a smattering of a less commercial and poppy (bonkers but brilliant) Paloma Faith. Johanna most definitely treading her own path though.
Lead vocals and piano, Johanna. Supported by drums, bass, guitars, trumpet, flute and a four-piece string section. All five songs written and produced by Johanna. The red-head has a striking look to go with her off-the-wall musical style. Impossible to pigeon-hole what she does or second-guess each cut on the EP. This is not template pop. The theatrical element is of no surprise when you read that she was a singer with the famed Cirque de Soleil. Johanna studied Psychology at University, then music and folklore at college, and she is an experienced vocal teacher.
The five contrasting EP cuts open with “Cinderella Stepsisters”, kicking off with a Gene Krupa style syncopated rhythm on tom toms, and Johanna chanting “If I need to I’d die for you, If I need to I’d slit my throat for you….” Before the choppy piano licks come in. Up-tempo and very theatrical, sounding almost Eastern European gypsy-like. Very stripped down and an exposed vocal.
“Sadistic Love Song” slows things down with a haunting ballad, and we hear more of her range and emotion-soaked vocal delivery. She can certainly create an ambience and vibe. The strings add huge value to the moodiness here.
“It Was A Day” speeds it back up with an almost polka feel, again that Eastern European thing comes into play. Piano giving it some, until a reggae style change of tempo. Yet another vocal style from chameleon-like Lillvik. She is quite something. This song lost my attention half way through though, the shortest cut of the five, at 3.55, the others all over four minutes long.
“Murky Waters” is the best of the bunch for me. How the heck do I describe it? A tango beat with piano and bass, subtle percussion, which all sets up an infectious groove, and Johanna becomes a diva. Almost a 1940s, jazz flavour to it, but again, it is a clever blend of all sorts and offers her the perfect vehicle to shine with her impressive vocal skills.
Muted horn pops in and out half way through, and adds more smoky blues-jazz atmosphere. The less is more production values across this record really work on this track, and allow the song to breath. Classy job. Tiny shades of Sade, maybe?
“One Of These Days” closes the set. Flute and acoustic guitar gently bring us into the track, before the drums, bass and guitars kick in, flute continuing to evoke mental images of a golden sun set and a hazy, summer night. The diction on the vocal wasn’t as sharp as the rest of the cuts, and the song did not really go anywhere for me; a bit of a cluttered arrangement. The first four would have done the job very well on their own, and been a tighter fit for her vocal style.
Ever get the feeling that an artist is capable of much, much more and “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet?” I very much look forward to a full-length album from Johanna, and will be following her career with great interest. She is ‘one to watch’ for sure, and if there are any hip hop/rap artists or DJs/re-mixers looking for a very different voice to front future recordings; I do believe they just found it.
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’