To sum up Jonnie Common’s latest album Trapped In Amber, eccentric would be the first word which springs to mind as all the unwritten musical rules of structure and consistency are broken, in a brilliant way.
Opener ‘Guesty’ is a 25-second recording of Common mixing speech with wavering vocals about the guest list, presumably to his show, an intriguing beginning that throws the listener into what is to be expected.
There are similar tracks on the album, which at first appear to be strange and unexpected, such as ‘EDC’, which features a recording of an answer machine message from a woman addressing Common about the picking up of “the hedgehogs”.
Although this sounds like a peculiar thing to place in the middle of an album, it is amusing and fits in well with the general odd impression of the album.
We are first introduced to the musical direction of the album with second track, ‘Shark’, featuring prominent tribal drumming and cymbal crashes alongside the continuous mix of talking and singing from Common, plus the distorted use of electric guitar and keyboard.
The lyrics appear to celebrate youth, which is accentuated by the freedom of the music to which they are accompanied.
Tracks such as ‘Binary’ and ‘Crumbs’ follow a similar style, as they are examples of the experimentation with various sounds that the album includes.
While the tracks previously mentioned highlight the eccentricity of the music, there are various songs which contain deeper lyrics, ‘So and So’ being an example of this, as this poignant, stripped back track is thrown amongst a mix of bizarre musical experimentation.
“You are one in a million,” sings Common throughout the dreamy and calm ‘Fractal’, which appears in stark contrast to what has previously been heardm, while ‘Better Man’ conveys Common’s ability to combine both these calm and experimental aspects.
This track initially presents itself as a dance track, with repeated and hypnotic bass featured from the beginning, with“I bet with your help, I could be a better man” repeated throughout the track, helping to enhance the dance feel within it.
However, as the track progresses, a distorted female voice appears and sends it in a completely different direction, adding a very surreal turn within it.
Although this may appear to be overwhelming, this surprising addition showcases Common’s ability to place his own stamp on what initially appears to be an archetypal dance track.
Trapped In Amber is a clear example of Common’s freedom of expression within his music, through his experimentation with many different sounds and arrangements, while also including songs that are both lyrically moving and musically fascinating.
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Words: Orla Brady