Daniel Johns – Talk

Daniel Johns

Okay, let’s just get one thing out of the way before this review starts. Talk is indeed the first album in eight years from Daniel Johns. Yes, the Aussie legend who once fronted a great band called Silverchair. Perhaps you have heard of them? And what is the one thing that has to be said about this hiatus-breaking release? This bears exactly no resemblance to Frogstomp. Disappointing I know but has everyone got that off their chest now? Good, let’s move on.

Talk appears to be an exercise in creating the current Triple J sound and uses a lot of the right ingredients; a little bit of Joel Little, a little bit of Julian Hamilton (of The Presets) and a dash of Louis Schoorl for popular appeal. Elements of all of these can be heard across this marathon of an album in the production, arrangement and songwriting.

To be frank, this album is just way too fucking long and this definitely detracts from the overall appeal. Don’t get me wrong, there are some great songs and Johns and the gang are definitely trying things, some that work and some that do not work. As can be the case with a lot of albums, a harsh edit job could have made this a great pop album.

The first single and highlight “Aerial Love” is a slow burner with fantastic percussion reminiscent of Lorde, obviously due to Little’s input on this track. I particularly enjoy the ambient feel and the psychedelic interlude in the middle. “Cool on Fire” is also a hit with a dream pop yet dancey vibe and well-orchestrated build up. One of the most interesting though perhaps not as easily digestible tracks is “Imagination”, which begins with humming that hints to Chet Faker or James Blake possibly being influences.

The main thing that lets this album down is certainly the repetition. Despite the experimentation with sound, a lot of the songs are essentially the same. John’s falsetto particularly grates on me. A man with such a wide vocal range really does not have to sing in that register throughout the whole album. Even when he does play with vocal technique, it just gets way too weird and doesn’t work. One notable lowlight is the strange autotune on “We Are Golden”. Guys, autotune should really always be avoided unless you are Vampire Weekend… or T-Pain. 

But hold up because my main discontent is about to be aired. What the actual fuck is going on with the lyrics on this album? Many tracks contain lyrics that are so terribly naff that it made me a little sick. Seriously, “Cool On Fire” contains such ditties as “It’s getting a little hard/Not to talk to one another/But I’m sick of playing it cool/In the end everybody needs someone”. Is this a lost lyric from when he was 14 or a Taylor Swift reject lyric? But hey, mainstream radio is gonna love this drivel so what the hell do I know?

Despite my above rant and the struggle through this album, there is respite with the last two tracks. “New York” is an interesting balladic track with the only hint of an early Silverchair feel as in Ana’s Song (Open Fire)”. Towards the end of the track, the vocal melodies and orchestration sounds like the track has escaped from a Disney Christmas movie soundtrack, which is good? Unconfirmed.

The operatic “Good Luck” ends this album and it’s a glitch-infused yet atmospheric number that leaves the listener wondering. This song is strange but beautifully spooky. At moments it bizarrely made me think of Aphex Twin.

All in all, I have to salute Johns for this effort. It must be hard to grow as a musician especially when there is such a cult following of music that you released when you were 16. However, and it pains me as an album-purist to say this, don’t bother listening all the way through. This sampler will do just as well.

THE BREAKDOWN:

Hometown: Merewether, NSW
Latest Album: Talk, released 22 May 2015
Sounds like: Most of the electronic pop you hear on Triple J.
Say what? In 2012, Johns collabrated with the Australian Chamber Orchestra to write “Atlas“, music which replaced the (in)famous “I Still Call Australia Home” jingle across Qantas’ advertising campaigns. 

Stay classy, Rosa.

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