Johnny Aries | Unbloomed (Frenchkiss)

cd Johnny-AriesThe pain/pleasure and bleak/bright are all rolled into one sonically beautiful album.

 

 

 

Putting together Unbloomed must have been a therapeutic process for Johnny Aries. He’s recently gone through gobs of changes: His band Two Wounded Birds disbanded; he joined The Drums on tour and on their new record, Encyclopedia; he made the transatlantic trip from his home in England to start anew in New York; assuming from the material within Unbloomed, he has ended a once-important relationship; and he’s even changed his name from Johnny Danger to Johnny Aries.

Similar to TWBs and The Drums, the themes of the songs go back and forth from heartbreak and hopefulness, pessimistic and optimistic, good times (kind of) and bad times. The pain/pleasure and bleak/bright are all rolled into one sonically beautiful album. His lamentations of his past are splattered on this album, but filling in the blanks where the regret-splat doesn’t cover are hints of excitement and potential happiness. The sunny surf-rock aspect of TWBs isn’t as apparent here, but it is not gone. “To Be Desired” has a Beach Boys–ish sound, although it is bursting at the seams with the longing of a Smiths song.

The gloominess Aries mastered with TWBs, though, is in full force. That’s not to say the jangling guitars have gone into hiding; there are wonderful guitars dancing around “This Grave Is My Bed Tonight,” and actually saving the desolate “Ambulette.” The former song, ironically upbeat for such a title, has a looping bass and darkly angelic guitar riffs (especially in the last minute of the song) that drive forward to an immensely satisfying finish. The agony throughout the slow “Bodybag” could have dragged the album to a crawl, but its placement in between the sweet and almost romantic “This Grave Is My Bed Tonight,” and “We’re Just Girls and Boys” keeps the album at an enjoyable flow.

The atmosphere in the almost confessional “Human Nature” is tenebrous at first, but when Aries sprinkles in a light sound of stars being lightly tapped and then almost takes back his apology—“I’m sorry for my behavior, but it’s just human nature”—the song takes on an understanding that things do get gloomy and maybe out of hand, but hey, that’s just how it goes. “I’m a Dreamer” is a slow, atmospheric, and melancholic song questioning where Aries belongs, which is also the query that pulsates off the album cover, where he drenches himself with an England flag, even though he now prowls the streets of New York.

The undulating organ in “You Belong to Me” brings out the constant sadness of the somewhat pathetic love letter in which he is constantly asking “Do you remember?” to his ex-love. Aries has said that he’s “already started writing my next solo record and I’m really excited. It already feels different; it’s more upbeat. I feel like with this one, I got all the sadness out.” So as the last track is titled, Aries, as well as his audience, should have “Great Expectations.” B+ | Alex Schreiber

RIYL: The Smiths, The Drums, Two Wounded Birds, Roy Orbison

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