Holding us captive with a gaze of kaleidoscopic strings and layers of a gentle vocal, Elijah Johnston is bringing out the big guns for the post-hipster ballad “Hornet’s Nest” this August, but if you examine the tracklist of his new record Day Off, you’ll see that his performance here is definitely par for the course. Johnston has quite the way with words as a singer, but it’s his ability to form over-the-top harmonies that draws us closer to this slowed-down alternative rock classic that is Day Off, and while missing much of the distortion and buzzing grind a record of this nature is usually saddled with, it doesn’t feel devoid of grit by any means.
The way songs like “Bet the House,” “Hideout / 100k” and “Molly Haskell” were mixed allows for us to really appreciate how much detail there is in this LP without feeling overwhelmed by the acoustic ambitiousness of Johnston’s songwriting style, which is quite the feat when you study the structure of the music here. He’s trying to fit a lot of conceptualism into a relatively minimalistic tracklist, and yet nothing is spilling over the sides and creating negative overindulgence for us to skip past.
Rhythm, or rather the absence of a gripping groove, lends a lot of weight to the melodies in “Greatest Hits,” “What We’re Made Of,” “Swimming Pool,” and “Horse Girl,” and I think it was smart of Elijah Johnston to use abstract themes to make his straightforward storytelling in these songs just a little more tangible and intriguing than it would have been. He clearly isn’t trying to copy another player in the game right now, and from the looks of the way this record has been stylized – around girth, weight, tone, and texture as opposed to cosmetics and production quality alone – it’s something we can expect from him in general.
Lyrically speaking, Johnston is so self-aware that he verges on melancholic territories without even meaning to in “Hideout / 100k,” “Bet the House,” and “On a Good Day,” the latter two being my favorite pair of songs on the album, but I don’t think there’s anything here that qualifies as being specifically emo, especially given the artistic parameters from which he’s weaving the narrative together. Self-awareness and humility are a step away from the uneven depression we’re seeing more and more of in the post-third wave emo movement, and they’re more or less the greatest themes you’ll pick up on in Day Off.
I didn’t know anything about Elijah Johnston before I sat down with this new record, but if this is giving me a good look into who he is when there’s nothing to stop his creative wits from running wild, I don’t believe this will be the last time his music lands on my desk spurred forth by a slew of positive feedback from other critics. Day Off touches on familiar grounds for hipster listeners in their 30s, but it doesn’t feel like a throwback – after all, the feelings Johnston is breaking down in this tracklist are very much his own and in the here-and-now.