Swedish pop duo jj enigmatically entered the spotlight in 2009 with the oddly named, bloodied pot leaf-emblazoned debut album jj n°2, an ethereal mix of electronic Caribbean rhythms, new-age synth obsession, and the sweet, malaise-ridden voice of Elin Kastlander. Considering the rise of Afro-centric, island-tinged pop of late (if artists like M.I.A. and Major Lazer are any indication), it’s no surprise that record labels Secretly Canadian and Sincerely Yours have re-issued the critically acclaimed sleeper album in the hopes of a warmer audience reception. It’s a wise move: Though the band’s sophomore effort, jj n°3, is an overall better record, jj n°2 is much more dynamic, containing little of the former’s thoughtful-but-sluggish melancholy and opting for a quicker, radio-friendly pace and devil-may-care attitude.
Perhaps more importantly, though, is that jj n°2 is a clearer example of the band’s dreamy take on Balearic house music. This is, at its most essential, a percussive record: jj is much less obsessed with ambient diversions on jj n°2 than on its successor, preferring to emphasize beats over tunes. Even most of their instrumentation choices (electronic harps, mallets, and the like) are used as staccato counterpoints to the songs’ main rhythms. What results is half an hour of ticking, clicking, and fluttering, with the cold pinprick sounds of drum pads providing an ideal contrast to Kastlander’s slurred warmth. “Masterplan” is a literal cavalcade of shaking and stuttering, stuffed to brim with so much percussion and ambient tropical noise that it evokes a sweaty outdoor concert somewhere in heart of a Brazilian jungle.
For all their deft invocations of various Caribbean and South American beats, Kastlander’s vocal quirks are perhaps the most endearingly intriguing. Though still drowsy and fawning, she is much more impish here than on jj n°3, where her tone was remorseful and pensive. Seductively cooing “When I’m in the club, I’m always on a drug” over the gliding beats of “Ecstasy,” Kastlander continues her lyrical themes of casual drug experimentation, ambiguous love affairs, and hazy, philosophical reflection while somehow infusing dozens of emotions and sensations into her husky, sleepy voice.
Perhaps the real beauty of jj n°2 lies in how quickly the duo, in just nine breezy tracks, craft a distinctive sound that, while not fully polished, is both evocative and unique. jj n°2 is, in some ways, the rough brainstorm sketches to jj n°3‘s full portrait: unfinished but brilliant in its loose artistry.