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jj - jj nº 3

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Artist: jj

Album: jj nº 3

Label: Secretly Canadian

Review date: Mar. 9, 2010

A dialectic is a story we tell about development. How do things change over time is a question that’s bothered us in the West since the Greeks, and the past 200 years have been about developing complex stories about how people, ideas, cultures and societies affect and change each other, how ideas morph and take on the characteristics of other ideas that they encounter, and how parts of those ideas can be obscured for a while, only to erupt later in time in new and surprising ways.

I like thinking about this as I listen to jj’s newest album jj no 3 because it is the most blatant flag-bearer of the erupting sound of the mainstream 1980s pop within indie pop (the distinctions between indie and mainstream themselves becoming even more confused as boundaries continue to break down between the two). When I was a child, I ended up listening to a lot of lite FM because that’s what my mom listened to in the car. Before I had an opinion of music, that carved out certain pathways for what I would like and what I wouldn’t like, pathways which laid somewhat forgotten until they were rediscovered in my 20s. There’s a certain nostalgia that overtakes us as we age, and for artists, that nostalgia influences the things they create.

This isn’t a story of personal development; however, in the same vein, there is also cultural nostalgia. Not the Jacksonian Tea Party pining for a mythical American past, but that dialectical nostalgia – the welling up of the past from a natural empathy. As we grow older, and as existence grows more complicated, we all feel a loss or a lack that we didn’t feel before. Whether we have truly lost something or whether that feeling was never there to begin with is immaterial. The fact remains that we feel it, and then naturally latch onto symbols of our past that remind us of that “lost” feeling.

The current wave of world-traveling indie pop is very directly a result of this. Musicians raised in the 1980s – the heyday for the mainstream musical colonialism – are now becoming strong artists in their own right, and they start reaching for the moments of their past that they feel are authentic moments. jj’s R&B-isms and Caribbean happy-go-lucky attitude are a direct manifestation of this, and even more so than no 2, no 3 seems to be really accepting that lost feeling and applying it, creating a smoother, more integrated sound.

At this point, the globe-trotting Western artist has become a norm, with both good and bad results: good, when the artist treats the source material not as something exotic, but as something to inform her work; bad, when it’s simply an act of cultural piracy. In jj’s case, it feels like a genuine use of the source material; not even as something conscious, like a person that travels around hoping to find new sounds, but rather as an act of dialectical eruption -- the past naturally coming back in a different form.

By Andrew Beckerman

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