Even Johansen

Quiet & Still

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Even Johansen's debut solo album materialized out of a collection of songs that he wrote but didn't feel fit the vibe of his band Libido. And it is a solo album in the true sense of the word, as he plays every note in addition to producing and recording the album himself. Quiet & Still has a suspended, luminescent quality, as if it hangs off somewhere by itself, on the horizon, part real and part placid hallucination. The melodies often take a while to unfold fully, and the songs slowly build steam before they release all their pent-up emotions, but once they do, it is like a door being unlocked. There is a glassy quality to songs like "The Recluse," "Bullet to Your Heart," and "Nothing Hurts Now" that makes it feel like your heart has been enclosed in a prison of windows, separating you from the world even as it forces you to watch day-to-day existence go on without you. Others ("Easily Undone," the cover of Phil Lynott's "Dancing in the Moonlight") open like broad Western vistas offering to be traveled. Throughout, Johansen borrows the languid, bleeding tone from Ennio Morricone's film music and the rustic guitars of country without sounding remotely like either. The music emerges out of the same beautifully wistful place as the music of Radiohead, Travis, and Poor Rich Ones, but it has its own glistening mood. Johansen was correct not to use these songs in the band context. They are too solitary and personal, too disillusioned and despondent. But what could have been an insular exercise instead is the format befitting the mood. It allows him to squeeze every ounce of loneliness out of the music, every moment of melancholy regret. Johansen is painfully candid in his lyrics, reopening all the darkest wounds of his heart, the decay and disintegration. But the process also allows him to turn the most bitter and isolating of experiences into songs of sublime beauty. And it isn't all dark light. The last two songs begin to break through the gloom: "Beautiful Day" sees the dissatisfaction with life beginning to fade, while the final "Home Song" provides something to anticipate, even look forward to. And in "There's an End to This," the album's centerpiece and most exceptional song, Johansen sings with an optimism missing from much of the rest of the album, even if the future he is hopeful for seems a long way off. But you don't have to wait to experience that moment of exultance with Quiet & Still. The album is a resplendent oasis, catatonic in the most stunning of ways, and like all such phenomena, there is something both uplifting and sorrowful about it, as if the music is both ephemeral and timeless. Regardless, it is tantalizing collateral for the time when Johansen decides to make a solo career his priority.

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