The concept of the album has made a fierce come back over the past couple of years, not least of all because so many artists and bands are embracing the idea as an opportunity to create something completely honest and free from the confines of time or industry rules or expectations. Robbing Johnny are, without question, a band who are doing exactly this and more. If creativity is what you want, if impressive and captivating songwriting, soul, and immense eclecticism are what you want – look no further. This album has it all.
Beginning with Sylvia, the sheer level of evolution throughout this single track is mesmerising. The shift from the delicate to the bold and vibrant, it’s all more than enough to convince you that you’re in for a deeply entertaining and memorable hour. As if the musicality wasn’t enough, or the character and skill presented by the leading voice, there are so many stories here – every song is an event, a detailed memory or experience, told in a way that seems to circle around you until it’s all you’re aware of. The album’s title track is a strong example of this. It’s also the first point at which you hear the genuine reach of that eclecticism – this fusion of rap and traditional folk-rock, the punk-rock energy of the hook, the heavily creative instrumental set-up.
As you make your way through this project the music takes elements from a number of different genres, as well as different ideas, different personalities, different walks of life. All the while you get infectious hooks, hypnotic energy, provocative lyrics and, simply put, something brand new to obsess about. From the gentle, piano-led, soulful-tones of Red Bird In The City, complete with a contrastingly manic rap vocal, through Bodega Vegan, with its electronic dub-style ambiance and mellow, jazz-like accompaniment, on to the emotionally considerate Grandfather’s Jacket – one thing is for certain; this album is far more of an experience, a journey, than a simple gathering of songs.
The progression is unpredictable, the variety is immense, and what’s more – every new element comes with a sincere level of skill and professionalism. The flicker of a saxophone, the rising intensity of the drums, the rap flow, the soulful delivery of melodies, the harmonies, the warmth, the craftsmanship, the brief yet immaculate additions to each soundscape – everything appears as if driven by a creative pro, and it makes you wonder why you hadn’t heard of these guys before.
Highbridge Park is a wonderful example of an incredibly emotional and compelling piece of music that utilises the simpler side of performance and production and sacrifices absolutely nothing in doing so. The brightness and authenticity of the passion and soul is stunning, and the space surrounding the vocal performances really let that depth and realness shine beautifully.
Despite the vast and endless build of each of these songs, there are certain traits that re-appear throughout and keep that necessary thread of familiarity alive. The piano is one of them, the freely meandering, jazz-inspired performances that merge into any number of other genres throughout. The front man’s performance style and vocal tone is another. On top of this, you have the energy – the beautiful chaos of it all. Summer Sux is a powerful song with a notably unusual set-up, one that works perfectly in drawing in and holding onto your attention. The music softens you up, the words break you down, and the changing pace consistently reminds you of how uncertain life is.
Worms In The Soil is a gorgeously welcome moment of raw, acoustic, unfiltered musical energy that soaks you in the genuine soul and warmth of a band with a shared love for artistry and expression. The lightness of this piece is really well placed within the collection, leading you peacefully into the final few seconds that are Cold March Reprise. I’m not sure I’ve had such a varied and inspiring experience with an alt-folk album since Joshua’s James’ Build Me This. Robbing Johnny are wonderful, well worth embracing.