What does Johanna Warren sound like?
Psych-folk for the MTV generation of disillusion.
The review of Johanna Warren – Lessons for Mutants
It has been a pleasure to have discovered Johanna Warren’s music early in her career because each album she creates has a different flavour. After starting out firmly in the mystical folk side of rock, Warren has progressively moved towards a more band approach. ‘Lessons for Mutants’ sees this culminate as a band effort that was recorded and tracked to tape.
It was a new way of working for Johanna. Speaking on it she said “Tape forces you to commit to a performance, eccentricities and all. The little glitches and anomalies that we’re tempted to ‘correct’ are often what make a thing magical.” On her sixth album, Warren explores metamorphosis as a human being and embracing your inner mutant. Johanna has always struck me as someone who embraces her quirks and uniqueness but this album allows her to stand prouder alongside them.
There’s plenty of psych-folk here for fans of her earlier work. The dreamy ‘Country Fair’ is like a slow-motion merry-go-round of open guitar strums, slow vocals and all kinds of weird noises tuning in and out of the song. The title track is a gorgeous largely acoustic forage through forest folk. Watery vocals shimmer and get thinner over time. Gently tabla and nature chips surround the thick basslines. It feels like a walkabout. Then you have the tumbling beauty of ‘Good is Gone’ which has a beautiful glockenspiel bridge.
A few songs are piano-led rather than guitar-based. ‘Tooth for a Tooth’ lets Johanna take on a 1940’s jazz bar. It’s a unique song in all her catalogue but it totally works with its solemn Vienna Teng approach to calmness in sadness. ‘Oaths’ has an emotionally wrought dual piano riff that when combined with its dramatic percussion creates a personal apocalypse merged with self-affirmation. It’s catchy and cathartic in equal measure and that’s how I’d describe Johanna Warren’s brand of rock to anyone. ‘Involvus’ is short but it sells an important message between simple chord plinks. “I have done the best I can”. The same lines are in ‘”Hi Res’ as the dusty track reaches its energetic climax.
Which leaves a third of the album to embrace that inner alternative rock goddess. I think in these songs Johanna is essentially finishing off the sentence “I have done the best I can…” with …” with the cards I’ve been dealt”.
‘:/’ is a moody two-chord sludge that hinged on how unhinged Johanna’s vocals can pitch themself as she warbles into a panic. ‘I’d Be Orange’ is an MTV anthem from the ’90s but was just made in 2022. The electro-acoustic riffs are simple and the slice-of-cheese chorus that builds up and rumbles comes off as wonderfully sarcastic alongside the mumbly and subdued vocals. ‘Piscean Lover’ is one of the most punkish tracks Johanna has done to date and if she wants to embrace an entire album of raw screaming angst, this is the perfect preview.
‘Lessons for Mutants’ is a tightly woven album at just half an hour yet so much is packed in. Between the rage, the raw, the reflection and the self-discovery there are about 5 genre shifts. It is a testament to the songwriting and performances that the album flows so well. It’s definitely one of the strongest alternative and psych-folk releases of 2022.
Recommended track: Oaths
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