Johnathan Rice | Further North (Reprise)

cd_johnathan-rice.jpgRice recounts typical guy-girl relationships with a "love her, leave her, and long-for-her-later" attitude.

 

 

 

 

 

 

If a picture can say a thousand words, the front-cover stare of Johnathan Rice’s newest release, Further North, says all it needs to in just three: Here I am. Sitting in solitude with achingly vacant eyes, Rice looks distant but ready to share the stories that keep his soul heavy and his words profound. Consistency is prevalent on Further North, a concept that works both for and against Rice—his sound is steady, but the songs get repetitive.

The first track, "We’re All Stuck Out in the Desert," sets the swanky, simple vibe as beautifully intricate lyrics are paired with sturdy drums and straightforward guitars. In songs such as "End of the Affair," "The Middle of the Road," and "It Couldn’t Be Me," Rice recounts typical guy-girl relationships with a "love her, leave her, and long-for-her-later" attitude that reappears in almost every track. The vocals sound hollow, but not empty—there’s no crazy rock ‘n’ roll passion here, but there is something to be said for the smooth, nonchalant way in which Rice sings.

The general repetition helps tracks like "THC" and "Hard to Believe" to stand out, however. The former is a strangely blunt little ditty, with the latter being the most upbeat track the album has to offer. "THC" has a slightly edgier sound, and Rice’s voice stretches and echoes to fill the gaps left by the sparseness of the lyrics.

Once you’ve listened to the first six songs, you’ve pretty much heard the entire album. The way I feel about Rice is similar to how I felt about John Mayer in high school: he’s cute, he’s catchy, but only time will tell if he’s a keeper. Though he has obvious talent for both words and melody (the lyrics are hypnotically fluid even without the music’s support), the prevalent written and audible similarities may suggest that Rice is either running out of material or uncomfortable taking creative risks.

Perhaps Rice’s greatest success is his ability to balance all the working elements within each song. He presents problems with a social consciousness that is sharp but not biting; the lyrics on the title track, are undeniably critical but lack any real malice: "We all wanna see the great empire cut down in its prime/ See its fruit die on the vine," Rice sings, and then, "But you don’t wanna hear about that from me/ I know, I know my place/ And I know I don’t belong singing worthless freedom songs."

"All I’ve found is it gets colder further north you go/ It’s the world I don’t want to know," Rice continues. He’s got the talent, but he may be rooted too deeply in the desolation of the California desert. If Rice is looking for major musical exposure, he may have to come to terms with the world he’d prefer not to know: gazing from his place in California, north also happens to be the same direction as up. B- | Karen Brandt

RIYL: Patrick Park, Peter Gabriel, John Mayer

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