Frankly, I don’t know what compelled me to do this EP more; the fact that Johnny Foreigner is the sole reason I would ever go to Birmingham (my Birmingham friends, I’m exaggerating), or the fact that the EP title is so long I fear Twitter, WordPress, or any other method of publishing anything with character constraints will hemorrhage. Nah, more the former.
Johnny Foreigner is a three-piece of the most spastic music I’ve heard in recent time. Their early releases Arcs Across the City and Our Bipolar Friends/The Houseparty Scene Is Killing You was proof that Junior, Kelly and Alexei could concoct songs that figuratively jumped the confines of music’s rail tracks carelessly with a tightness that was as genius and potentially insane as a Ca’ del Sol labcoat donning, paint-covered Carnival Festival scientist. Recently, they landed on the shores of America to tour after one of their companies failed to return their calls; leaving them desperate for alternative funding least they end up stuck in Alabamaa on their way to Texas-and we don’t want a repeat of Top Gear for our fare British friends, do we? We ran into each other in Chicago and Kelly was in awe of the outpouring of support, humbly telling me, “We’re just a shitty band from Birmingham” and people caused “our hearts to grow to the size of houses” when people started buying their old releases en masse.
So now housed on Alcopop! Records, what’s this newfound EP got for us? Quite possibly the first time I’ve seen a band regress-in the best direction a band could.
The new EP has all the hallmarks of the first time I heard them, when Kelly utterly destroyed “Champagne Girls I have Known” through ernest screams or the searing combination of Alexei and Junior’s tremendous musical one-two of “Our Bipolar Friends”. Without hesitation, Alexei and Junior introduce “The Wind and the Weathervanes” from the get-go. It’s a late-night saunter, a haze of guitar with the only fluorescent lines directing traffic coming from Junior’s rather surprisingly lazy drumming (as opposed to gunning it). The song drops halfway in, allowing us to soak the notes in as Alexei’s vocals fade off; a depth definitely was lacking on their past Grace and the Bigger Picture.
“Who Needs Comment Boxes When You’ve Got Knives” features Kelly more prominently than ever in a typical JoFo song, other than her brilliantly basic, “I’llchoosemysideandshutup, Alright.” For once, Alexei is supporting her instead of the other way in the bombastic barrage of indie pop/punk they mix so well. The closer you listen, the more you realize how instrumentally complex they truly are. “Harriet, By Proxy” perfectly expresses this. Listen to the drumsticks hitting the snare rim to focus on Junior, then just listen…you don’t hear much better drumming in punk, nor indie rock in general (he plays synth too).
One thing that prevents it from topping their 2008 debut LP, Waited Up ‘Til It Was Light, is the lack of a slow, catchy, gripping song the way “Eyes Wide Terrified” never lets the listener go when you hear Alexei singing, “But he falls asleep on her shoulder every shift they spend together…which is most nights.” “Robert Scargill Takes The Place” is the closest, and I adore the track because of the harmonies they create, with Kelly going above Alexei’s range.
Johnny Foreigner’s doing exciting things, so much more now that they seemingly have parted with the baggage that has held them down. In Chicago, they were ecstatic, exuberant to be in America. Now with this EP, it’s translated back into their music. Bring on the third LP.
Note: In lieu of no Chicago concert this time, here’s a taste of their concerts, which I caught one in Paris in 2009.