November 14, 2012

Review: Johnny Foreigner | Names EP

Daniel. Lauren. Tom. Sam. Jonny. Chloe. Sophie. These are the names of Names, the stormy new EP from Birmingham, England's noise-pop goliaths Johnny Foreigner. At bottom, the short, searing collection comprises four catchy, intricate songs, extending the sci-fi ARG soap opera futurepop themes of the band's dominating 2011 full-length referenced below. But Names is more than that: it's a renewed challenge from a band operating at the top of its game, a quartet brandishing kaleidoscopic, quasi-fictive anthems bent into denser and ever more sophisticated shapes by the out-sized songwriting talents of fronter Alexei Berrow and his cohort. As we've come to expect from the incredibly prolific and reliable act (which, among many other things, released Clicky Clicky's favorite album of 2011, the full-length Johnny Foreigner vs. Everything), the briskly paced songs bristle with hooks, melodies and ideas. Condensed and potent, the set contains no ballads, and each of four possible tunes carries the characteristic concoction of desperation and bravado that we first noted upon the release of Johnny Foreigner's first EP, Arcs Across The City, in late 2007 [review].

Sure, a lot has changed for the band in the intervening five years: Johnny Foreigner now boasts a different U.K. label (Alcopop!), a U.S. label (Swerp), and a second guitarist (Lewes Herriot, perhaps best known to date as the guy responsible for all of Johnny Foreigner's art from the blistering "Our Bipolar Friends" single onward). But the heart of the band -- its desperate energy, disarming sincerity and brilliant songcraft -- has yet to falter. "Maybe Daniel's All The Push I Need" opens the EP at break-neck pace, 140 seconds of sputtered lyrics, stop/start dynamics, and slashes of guitars spraying every which way. "Killing In The Name" does its best to pull itself apart with lyrics that almost fall out of meter, and lyrics that shout other lyrics down ("you don't get to say it! you don't get to say it!"), while at the same time keen attention to vocal harmonies and a quiet and sweet guitar section impose order where possible. That order is challenged by dense salvos of chords in the final third that do much to perpetuate an intensity that makes Names fly by in what feels like an instant. "O When Will This Honeymoon End?" is less chaotic and places great emphasis on vocal hooks and melody, and the repeated lyric "all these nights and all these chances" repeats in cascades to a calming conclusion, the kind and meaning of which one can't remember upon waking. The set closes with the brilliant anthem "3 Hearts," with its affecting confession "stop making sense, god knows I've tried." The song succeeds in reframing and restating the themes of the collection, has a nifty false ending, and is yet another marvel of clever composition.

And so Names does its job: we can't wait to hear more from the quartet. Not all four songs from Names are on offer in a single package; to whit, a t-shirt and digital pack from the band's American label exclusively includes "O When Will This Honeymoon End?"; a badge set and digital pack from the U.K. label exclusively includes "Killing In The Name." However, it is quite simple to get whichever extra song you need as a stand-alone download, so the minor inconvenience -- while still admittedly inconvenient -- is easily dispelled. Names was released by Swerp and Alcopop! Oct. 27; buy it via the links supra and stream it in its entirety via the embed below. Johnny Foreigner continues its trek across North America, the so-called Vs. The Atlantic tour, the dates of which you can review here at Facebook. The tour has been augmented with an additional slate of Canadian dates which are posted in this recent blog post from the band.

Selected Prior Coverage:
That Was The Show That Was: Johnny Foreigner | Bowery Ballroom
Review: Johnny Foreigner | Arcs Across The City EP
Review: Johnny Foreigner | Waited Up 'Til It Was Light
Review: Johnny Foreigner | WeLeftYouSleepingAndGoneNow
Review: Johnny Foreigner | Grace And The Bigger Picture
Review: Johnny Foreigner | You Thought You Saw A Shooting Star But Yr Eyes Were Blurred With Tears And That Lighthouse Can Be Pretty Deceiving...
Review: Johnny Foreigner | Certain Songs Are Cursed EP
Review: Johnny Foreigner | Johnny Foreigner Vs. Everything

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