After many years of playing in the band Fenster (so far producing four LP’s and the film Emocean) Jonathan Jarzyna adopted the moniker John Moods, releasing his debut full-length The Essential John Moods with Mansions and Millions in 2018. Now, having completed his first solo tours, he returns with So Sweet So Nice, which will be released as two EPs: So Sweet on April 16th and So Nice on August 6th. This diptych will ultimately culminate in one vinyl LP, to be released in physical format on August 6th and accompanied by an exclusive special book of poetry.
If The Essential John Moods was the soundtrack to a summer backpacking trip, its follow-up has the feel of a triumphant homecoming. Where the previous album traded in dreamy displacement, So Sweet So Nice is serenely centered, springy grooves transforming musings on mortality into vibrant celebrations.
Such a self-assured, finely polished collection of songs, rich with tranquil moments, seems an unlikely product of two years marked by creative frustrations. But this is a tapestry woven of paradoxes and contradictions. It speaks in an untroubled voice of existential worry, conjures rejoicing from the funerary. The form of this homecoming is the discovery of a dwelling space in the unsettled, of feeling home in the unsettling. A contrast captured so succinctly in the titular line - “So sweet, so nice; everything is waiting to die. So sweet, so high; nothing ever felt so alive.”
John began to conceive these songs alone in the Polish countryside, but soon encountered doldrums and dead-ends. So Sweet and So Nice could only find their way into the world with help from friends – including Fenster bandmate JJ Weihl (AKA Discovery Zone), who once again co-wrote the lyrics; TOPS guitarist David Carriere; and producer-instrumentalists Magnus Bang and Joni Reiter, among others. This collaborative spark imbues the record with much of its ebullience, yet there is an inescapable air of solitude throughout, as if it is sung to us by Emerson’s transparent eyeball.
The project’s division into two parts reflects the ideas that preoccupied Jarzyna while crafting these songs: the profusion and intensification of binaries in our world, the necessary interrelation of opposites, the persistence of primordial dualities – light and dark, good and evil, hope and loss, life and death. Comprehending these as dyads, and becoming comfortable in the obscure spaces between them. Each half contrasts the other, accentuating divergent aspects of a single whole.
So Sweet channels the spirit of classic AM pop and even Country & Western (in its more psychedelic manifestations) into something both contemporary and timeless, full of sprightly guitar work, burbling, trickling synths, and, on “Ordinary Magic,” a brief but scene-stealing sax solo: a deepening of the distinct sound-world developed on The Essential John Moods. At the jubilant end of the spectrum, there’s the twangy call to immediacy of first single “Talk To Me,” the cheerful paean to loneliness and confusion “Without You,” and the irrepressible title track. At the opposite end, there’s the placid meditation on impermanence of “New Skin” and the stately acid waltz of “All You Gotta Do Is Wait.”
The “soul-wandering blues” of “Frank” sets a slower pace for So Nice as it gently strums its way through uncertainty. “Meet Me In My Dreams” follows with an oneiric wink to the grim reaper, while “Sensitive One” closes with a bittersweet ode to vulnerability, the pains and pleasures of our oft-asymmetrical attachments to the world.
Perhaps the most emblematic song here is “In A New Way,” which matches slinky grooves with vernal melancholy. In it, John asks “Did you find the answer? Or just the words? Or are you just saying nothing again, in a new way?” Finding new ways to express the ineffable, to create a permanent record of the ever-fluctuating now – is this not both the great challenge and great reward of music itself? It speaks to the magnitude of its accomplishment that the album describes this task so neatly – and then finds those ways, again and again.