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Further North

Johnathan Rice

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Customer Reviews

No Ordinary Singer/Songwriter

For such a young guy, Johnathan Rice sure seems disillusioned — if not downright apathetic — on his latest album, Further North. Not that disillusionment and apathy are bad things to sing about; in fact, the 24-year old singer/songwriter does a real fine job of turning such sentiments into uniquely charismatic music. Rice debuted in 2005 with Trouble Is Real, which not only showcased his deep and somber voice, but also his talent as a songwriter. The music leaned toward a rich sound, often with strings and a full band. This time around on his sophomore release, Rice has scaled the music down to evoke more of a primitive mood, replete with drums that wallop and thud amidst unadorned guitars. He wrote six of Further North’s eleven tracks with his indie-rocker girlfriend, Jenny Lewis, who complements the album with much the same quirky aesthetic that she exhibits with Rilo Kiley. On “The End of the Affair,” a delicious little ditty that sounds too cute to cut so deep, they trade vicious barbs about saying goodbye. On the acerbic track, “We’re All Stuck Out In The Desert,” Rice sardonically asserts, “She calls the shots/That’s how we get along,” which sort of makes one wonder if he’s referring to his real-life sweetheart. Two of the album’s most striking tracks feature driving rhythms with an expansive sound. “The Ballad Of King Coyote” rages like a backwoods bonfire, its music stark and rumbling while Rice’s voice booms through with an ominous air. And “THC” spills forth with a transcendental vibe, shrouded in wanton imagery and sonic derangement. Throughout the album, Rice exhibits a curious vacancy in his voice that belies the brunt of some rather pointed lyrics, thus painting an odd paradox between the words and their expression. At one point during “It Couldn’t Be Me,” as the music sways at a pleasant pace, he sings, “She spoke with the prettiest mouth and she scorned me/She sharpened her teeth and flashed them to warn me.” And amid the vitriolic grunge of the title track, Rice insouciantly sings a litany of self-defeating prophecies, capping each verse with the refrain, “It’s all a waste of time.” Far from being worthless, Further North offers an intriguing set of distinctive songs. With his eccentricities and deadpan delivery, Johnathan Rice doesn’t come off as a conventional singer/songwriter, but that's not a bad thing and neither is this album.

A Great Sophmore Album

The sexism that so often goes hand-in-hand with assigning credit for popcraft is virtually always a one-way street. From the naysayers who claimed Courtney Love owed her career to Cobain and Corgan, to the implication that M.I.A.'s is chiefly Diplo's creation, to the innumerable female pop stars who get treated like automatons incapable of creative input (while Justin Timberlake is lauded as a savvy popsmith, of course), the same unfortunate scenario continues to play out of a woman's work being attributed to a man. Fortunately, like some sweet Title IX of indie-rock accreditation, Johnathan Rice has come along to help rectify the gender imbalance. That's because Rice is currently dating indie queen Jenny Lewis, who just happens to get co-writing credit on seven of the eleven tracks from her beau's sophomore full-length, Further North, which suspiciously also happens to be a significant improvement over his dreary debut. Rice's first offering, 2005's Trouble Is Real, revealed a dusky-voiced young troubadour (seven years Lewis' junior, in fact) who sounded like John Mayer with a stronger political sensibility and weaker hooks. The handful of songs that at least boasted worthwhile lyrics were largely marred by Rice's dewily florid delivery, the same overweening earnestness that makes you want to punch Mayer in the face too. The best lyric by miles on Rice's debut belonged to "Behind the Frontlines", the one track, coincidentally enough, co-penned by Lewis. Her fingerprints are all over this new record, of course, but surprisingly the enhancements that have elevated Rice from a noxious artist to a tolerable one appear to be predominantly his own doing. Most obviously and blessedly, Rice has gone from sounding like a strict Mayer copyist to more judiciously appropriating several vaguely earthy baritones, alternately evoking David Bazan, Jakob Dylan, David Lowery, and the Doves' Jimi Goodwin. Seemingly baby steps, I know, but worlds better than perpetually expecting him to segue into a karaoke rendition of "Your Body Is a Wonderland". A little vocal variation also helps mask the fact that Rice still hasn't figured out he's far better acclimated to loping, unforced folk than harder-charging rock, stumbling over the bashing, stop-start rhythms of "THC" and "Giving It Up" when his truest mien lies in the gentler, more rambling likes of "End of the Affair" (a duet with Lewis) and "The Middle of the Road". Of course, you'd expect Lewis' contributions to be most noticeably lyrical, and it's true that Further North frequently treats her pet themes of institutional disillusion ("We're All Stuck Out in the Desert") and hipster-to-sell-out hand-wringing ("The Middle of the Road", the title track). Interestingly enough, however, those latter two songs are credited solely to Rice, as is the album's other true lyrical standout, the progress-busting nature fable "The Ballad of King Coyote". Meanwhile, the remaining songs that bear at least a portion of Lewis' stamp are generally scarcely more compelling than the material on Rice's debut. Still, even at its best, Further North isn't close to being on par with Lewis' magnificent Rabbit Fur Coat, suggesting the Emmylou of Laurel Canyon may have been on cruise control here. On the other hand, at least it appears Rice has been taking solid notes.

Smart Accessible Alt/Pop

Just saw this guy play with The Redwalls in Boston and I immediately grabbed his albums. To be honest I actually prefer this album to "Trouble Is Real". This album is just unbelievably catchy and the music overall is incredibly fun to listen to. A great throwback to early Tom Petty and George Harrison. Johnathan...PLEASE RELEASE A LIVE ALBUM

Biography

Born: May 27, 1983 in Alexandria, VA

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '00s, '10s

When he was 16, singer/songwriter Johnathan Rice opened his mouth and let out a weathered, rustic sound that caught him by surprise. Like many teenagers obsessed with music, Rice just wanted to see what his voice sounded like when imitating his heroes, who included the likes of Joni Mitchell, the Band, Neil Young, and Bob Dylan. As consequence would have it, Rice decided to make his songwriting hobby a serious affair and returned to his native Virginia, having spent most of his life growing up in...
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Further North, Johnathan Rice
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