"We're all stuck out in the desert and we're gonna die!" Coming through the speakers sounding like some strange love child of The Pixies and Country Joe And the Fish, it's the feel bad hit of the season. What I mean is, it's doomsday pop you can dance to. It is at once old and new, like a coyote slinking past a gay bar. Then, after that, it's the dumb stomp of the title track, which makes you think about a more hi-fi Crazy Horse playing way behind the beat and spreading all over the map. "IRead More
"We're all stuck out in the desert and we're gonna die!" Coming through the speakers sounding like some strange love child of The Pixies and Country Joe And the Fish, it's the feel bad hit of the season. What I mean is, it's doomsday pop you can dance to. It is at once old and new, like a coyote slinking past a gay bar. Then, after that, it's the dumb stomp of the title track, which makes you think about a more hi-fi Crazy Horse playing way behind the beat and spreading all over the map. "I know I don't belong singin a worthless freedom song. It's all a waste of time." Is this a first? Is he protesting the protest song? Either way, alert Fox News and Moveon.Org and start slinging mud.
If you heard the first record, you'll be wondering what happened. If you haven't heard it, this is a wonderful place to start. "I think I got younger on this record" says Rice from a plastic lawn chair a few miles east of Hollywood. "The first one is so dramatic!" – referring to dream sequence–styled psychedelic pop record Trouble Is Real. The album, made in Lincoln, Nebraska with the staggeringly talented Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, The Faint, Cursive) was an incredibly bold experiment for a nineteen-year old making his first record. Almost stylistically schizophrenic, the record rocketed from orchestral pop to hammering punk-influenced rock. "While I was writing Further North, the way I feel about everything changed. The way I sing changed. It's so much less labored now. The weight of the world that was never there in the first place was lifted. I just wanted to simplify everything." There are a lot of moments on this record where everything breaks down to just drums and vocals, as if it's some sort of primal reaction to the sonic decadence of Trouble Is Real.
That's one of the few benefits of being a twenty-four year old in the pop desert of the mid-2000's. Born in Virginia and raised between there and his family's Glasgow, Scotland, Johnathan grew up on all the music worth listening to - from Neil Young and the Byrds to the Velvets and Wire to Bobby Charles, Tom Petty and Townes Van Zandt. His songs reflect a generation that heard Rock and Roll after it was born, died, and born again. He toured for nearly three years in the time before and after the release of Trouble is Real. The album reached the ears of many other musicians, leading to tours opening for Wilco, Martha Wainwright, Ben Gibbard, and Jenny Lewis. He also played rock-legend dress-up when he played a bit part as Roy Orbison in the Academy Award winning film Walk The Line and contributed an Orbison cut to the Grammy Award winning soundtrack produced by T Bone Burnett.
The album was especially well received in the UK, particularly after REM's Peter Buck caught Rice's acoustic set in a bar in Manchester. That brief encounter prompted Buck to invite the twenty-one year old to open several shows for REM, including their historic concert at London's Hyde Park in front of 90,000 fans. "Opening for any band, large or small is the true test of your own self-belief. The people didn't pay to see you, so you gotta make sure they don't feel like they're getting ripped off. It made me a stronger performer, and I took that strength with me into the studio."
Johnathan entered Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, CA (Tom Petty, Nirvana) in the eerily warm winter of 2006. Jason Lader (Vietnam, Rilo Kiley) and Farmer Dave Scher (Beachwood Sparks, All Night Radio) completed the three man production team. It's quite obvious even from a cursory first listen that the album was recorded live and not much else was added in post. "I took a pretty big gamble on the sessions. I told Dave and Jason that I didn't want to rehearse the band at all. I wanted them to hear each song for the first time right there on the studio floor and then go on their initial instincts. That can either work totally to one's advantage or totally flop. Luckily, the guys who played on it were so fucking good that it worked out. I had the time of my life recording these songs."
Whereas the first record tried to take on the world and a whole host of musical genres, this new album stays relentlessly focused on the song, the band, and that voice. The sound is warm and the words are at once hot and cold. It's an optimistic apocalypse with something for you and your weird uncle. It's consistently against the grain while staying true to that old Harvest, y'know?
Whatever you think about this record, there is a story here. The lyrics cut as deep as you let them, and even if you don't pay attention to that sort of thing there are enough deep pockets and American guitars to keep you nodding your head in the drive through line. I don't know if you people read these things or not. But I do hope you listen to this record. On some quality speakers. Not those shitty little earphones either.