Johnny Aries

Unbloomed

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After his band Two Wounded Birds split up in late 2011, Johnny Danger started playing guitar with the Drums, moved to N.Y.C., and changed his name to the Johnny Aries. His debut album under that name, Unbloomed, doesn't stray too far from the gloomy, rain-soaked-streets sound he created with Two Wounded Birds. If anything it's rather more gloomy when Aries is down, and shinier when he's smiling through the tears. The album serves as a farewell to his old band, his relationship, and his home country, bathed in melancholy nostalgia and regrets. Aries' evocative vocals wring every last emotion out of the soaring melodies, his guitars twang and twist, and the sound takes a detour from his old band's black-and-white re-creation of rockabilly Phil Spector in favor of a wider sonic palette that ropes in many '80s colors. Some of the tracks, like the rollicking "This Grave Is My Bed Tonight" and "To Be Desired" come close to TWB's formula, but with an extra injection of the Smiths in their DNA. Elsewhere, Aries channels sophisti-pop à la Prefab Sprout ("Great Expectations") or Aztec Camera ("I'm a Dreamer"), strips down the arrangements to bare essentials (as on "You Belong to Me," which builds some serious feelings out of Aries' plaintive emoting, a gently strummed acoustic guitar, some organ swells, and Duane Eddy-like lead guitar) and comes up with the kind of aching ballad one might expect to hear over a heartache montage in an '80s teen movie. Taken as a whole, the album is an impressive slice of backwards-looking modern pop that's distinguished by both Aries' skill at creating atmosphere and his sure-handed guitar playing. While it will always be a shame the Two Wounded Birds didn't get a chance to make more records, the sting will fade quickly if Aries keeps making music as rich and emotional as Unbloomed.

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