On the opening track of jj’s jj n°3, vocalist Elin Kastlander moans, “What the hell am I doing right?,” alerting listeners almost immediately to the album’s stark and mournful professions of happiness. Like jj n°2 before it, n°3 strikes a balance between the blasé and the magical, matching facetious, oft-distracted melodies with barefoot gorgeousness and wide-eyed, childlike marvel. It’s music for a slow sunrise or a drunken sunset: winding, slow, perhaps even directionless, and yet indescribably beguiling amid the calm.
Confidently straddling a murky gulf between various world genres, jj’s second full-length release is best described as a particularly ethereal, Carribbean-flavored minimalism, drifting somewhere between the cool, African melancholy of Sade and Röyksopp’s diversionary synth-pop. The former comparison can be primarily attributed to Kastlander, whose sullen, burnt voice often barely manages to enunciate her morose declarations of joy, capturing a funereal grace on “No Escapin’ This” as her accompaniments navigate reverberant, oceanic visions. The forlorn spaciness continues on standout “Into the Light,” which marries the thrumming of samba street beats to a galactic palate while phasing between slices of an excitable fútbol announcer and a gloomy morass of spacey instrument banks.
Yet even in its most tearful moments, the album bares a silver lining: The twisting “Voi Paralte, Lo Giocco,” for example, remains murky and milky until the faux-orchestral touches sweep in to rescue it, whisking the melody skyward. Indeed, amid all of n°3‘s offerings, only the aforementioned opener, “My Life,” decides to stay continually bleak and aloof, with little more than a plodding, austere piano and Kastlander’s epitaph-like lyricism to guide it. As darkly elegant as that pairing might be, n°3 manages better when its somber front is married to blithe surrealism, a feat jj accomplishes with skill and regularity.