Johnny Foreigner
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Johnny Foreigner

Birmingham, England, United Kingdom | INDIE

Birmingham, England, United Kingdom | INDIE
Band Alternative Pop

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"29376 Johnny Foreigner Arcs Across The City"

It’s funny how Birmingham has spawned two bands of such differing quality that one is practically the critical polar opposite of the other. On one side you have The Twang, purveyors of lad-rock dirge and kings of all-things shit-core; on the other, Johnny Foreigner. Surely you don’t need a diagram to clarify which act is just about the best damn band to emerge from the nation’s second city for a long time.

Their first album – a seven-track mini-album, Arcs Across The City – introduces Johnny Foreigner as the excitable kids of new-wave indie music. This is pop music packaged with added E-numbers and dancing feet that never misstep.

The boyx2 girlx1 three-piece make clever, fast, instant guitar music. Throwaway, you say? I can tell you, with conviction, that this record hasn’t left my earphones in weeks, save for a couple of days of obligatory Radiohead listening. Be it the sweet, closely matched male-female vocal interplay that sounds the length of ‘Suicide Pact, Yeah?’, or the ADHD guitar on ‘Champagne Girls I Have Known’, this band leave you reaching for the repeat button. They’re everything good you can say about Sonic Youth, Bloc Party and Los Campesinos!, taking the best parts of said bands and twisting the mixture it into something original.

Brilliance extends way past any collective influences, though, as Johnny Foreigner have enough of their own fuel for nostalgic nuances to be ignored.‘Sofacore’ adopts a hyperactive rapid-fire formula and morphs it into a short two-minute manoeuvre, while slower acoustic number ‘All Moseley Gardens’ is tagged on as a hidden track for necessary respite – a move which should put a hush to naysayer tongues suggesting the band are limited to one cheap trick. Come the release of their debut full length, Johnny Foreigner will be unstoppable, if they’re not already at that stage already.

Arcs Across The City is the counter argument to empty bands with emptier songs, to the indie lyricists solely reliant on quick wit and cool urban references. There’s nobody in this band with a fuckwit ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ moniker, there are no retrospective ska leanings, and nothing to chant along to in drunken karaoke. It’s too fast and too clever for the usual clichés. People will complain that it would be impossible to make a music video for them without shooting it in double-speed a la _something from the television show of famous milkman Benny Hill, and that there are too many _twists and turns and bangs and wooshes for a three-minute slot on daytime radio. But I’ll tell you that the usual methods of criticism cease to matter, because this is_ a ten-out-of-ten record if ever I heard one, and I can’t name one other British band deserving of the highest accolade this year. Johnny Foreigner will have you revert to the excitable teenage fanboy that would go out and buy a band’s single in every format just for the b-sides. Y’know, _just because.

Seven songs, 21 minutes, and some of the most exciting indie-pop sounds committed to record by a British band in a long while. Arcs Across The City is the domestic debut album release of the year, hands down.

BEN YATES

* Johnny Foreigner 10 / 10

- DROWNED IN SOUND


"Johnny Foreigner – Waited Up ‘Til It Was Light by Tom Whyman on 13. May, 2008 in Record Reviews"

How the hell am I meant to start a review for pretty much the best and most important record not only of this year, but possibly even of this decade (well, out of music coming from this country, at least)? A complete, unqualified masterpiece of the already-familiar-from-demos and so much more. The fastest, most exciting guitar pop record (see also: ‘record generally’) in like forever. An album that rivals even Slanted & Enchanted for both realization of prior-release promise and sounding so consummately the indie-rock milestone throughout? And also for me loving it. Time to take gratuitous fun as seriously as possible.

Boom! Johnny Foreigner began when Pavement and the Pixies collided with Cap’n Jazz and Q And Not U somewhere over Birmingham and singer/guitarist Alexei mutated after being landed on by the resultant goo. Or, at least, they might as well have done. Either way this is the most perfect, double-speeded boy-girl shouty hook-stuffed-to-bursting pop music in the world. This isn’t even just brilliant pop music, this is pretty much a completely new way of doing pop, a new way of stuffing as much pop brilliance as possible into every single song. Johnny Foreigner have cracked the code, people. Alexei, Kelly and Junior are like cartoon heroes, superhuman in their abilities to sound like so much more than 3 people playing at once whilst still sounding *exactly* like *3 people, playing at once!*. If that makes any sort of sense at all. Alexei especially is the most creative pop guitarist I’ve heard since, like, Alden Penner. In an interview I did with him recently he said that when he writes songs he gets what he said a: “fZZZT BzzT in my head and there’s a bit of a song there,” and I totally love how just right that description of his song writing process sounds. This is fZZZT BzzT music. There’s no better way to describe how electric and magical its inspiration must be.

I feel (almost) bad for screaming so consistently about how unqualified its greatness is. Because this is not really a record *designed* (or at least not designed specifically) for greatness, if it wasn’t so amazingly, hit-you-over-the-head-constantly-with-how-good-it-is-and-make-you-want-to-listen-to-it- over-and-over-again-forever brilliant then you could almost call it unassuming. Alexei is pretty much the nicest of my heroes I have ever met, and Johnny Foreigner’s egotism/sheer talent ratio doesn’t seem to correlate with how you might think it would at all, thus making them ‘just’ an absolutely amazing (indie) pop band. Which is of course is ‘just’ the best thing in all the world.

But you switched-on teens will have probably already heard well over half of this in some form already (and I’m speaking to you as if this is BEFORE you downloaded the leak). ‘The End And Everything After’ and ‘Yes! You Talk Too Fast’ return re-recorded from Arcs Across The City; ‘Cranes x4’, ‘Sometimes In The Bullring’, ‘Yr All Just Jealous’, ‘Absolute Balance’ and ‘The Hidden Song At The End Of The Record’ (the last two being the renamed ‘Balance, Comma, Girl’ and ‘The End As A Beginning’ respectively) do the same from the demos collection; ‘Eyes Wide Terrified’ and ‘Our Bipolar Friends’ have already been heard as singles; even ‘Hennings Favourite’ and ‘Salt Pepa & Spinderella’ have been streaming from their Myspace too. So in fact, this leaves just opener ‘Lea Room’ and token slow song ‘DJs Get Doubts’ as genuinely new. This is no bad thing: for one, those songs are both awesome. For another: even-better new re-recorded versions! Now normally you know how more ‘professionally’ produced versions of songs are rubbish and loose all the charm and usually a bit of the tempo for some reason too so they totally cloy on the ears? (see: Black Kids) Well JoFo fans, rejoice, because this album really, really doesn’t do that. In fact, it probably even makes them faster, or at least brings out new amazingness in them, particularly with what they do with the vocals (case in point especially being ‘The End And Everything After’ with the way they layer the backing vocals towards the end and stuff becomes so ridiculously awesome the master tapes of it are probably sonically unstable and have to be held in a special magnetic field so they don’t just spill out and infect the whole planet with unreasonable and unsafe joy). The vocals on ‘Eyes Wide Terrified’ are pretty stunning too.

Is it perfect, then? Well is anything? So probably not. Well, probably not *quite*. For example: I do not become completely dizzy with joy hearing literally every second of it. Just most of them. The way ‘Our Bipolar Friends’ starts with that “blending in like ninja” line I’m not the world’s biggest fan of. I mean, I *like* it, but I’m not the world’s absolutely biggest fan of it. Also, some of my favourite Johnny Foreigner songs, like ‘Sofacore’, ‘Another Ghost, Another Planet’, ‘Say It When Yr Sober’ and ‘The Houseparty Scene Is Killing You’ did not make it onto the album. On the other hand, though, I can still just listen to them when I have a few minutes not listening to Waited Up Til It Was Light.

Finally, ‘Absolute Balance’ is not as good a title as ‘Balance, Comma, Girl’, and even more so ‘The Hidden Song At The End Of The Record’ is a total non-improvement on ‘The End As A Beginning’. In fact it makes it seem quite impersonal (despite the fact that, yeah, I can see why they’ve done it because it is broadly amusing and post-modern). But hey, when it just gets faster and faster and faster at the end to finish it…

Waited Up Til It Was Light is full of those just utterly perfect moments. “I CANNNNN’T LOOSE YOU IN CROWDED ROOMS!”, “Hot girls know the words to our songs,” “Oh, you’ll nevaaaaa,” etc. And it’s not *just* lightning-addictive shouty, fuzzy candy-pop either (well, if you think it is “just” that then it wouldn’t be all that bad a thing anyway, but we’ve already sort of covered that ground earlier and I don’t really want to risk going too-enthusiastically round and round in circles over and over again). There’s a solid emotional core to some of these songs too. ‘Yr All Just Jealous’, ‘Sometimes In The Bullring’ and ‘Salt, Pepa & Spinderella’ especially. But it’s not really about that. Oh fuck, it’s boy-girl pop as informed by Cap’n Jazz, it’s just like something out of some beautiful dream.

This album is unhealthy though. I’ve not properly listened to anything else in days. Aw, who needs to though? It’s even named after a Casiotone For The Painfully alone lyric. Screw trying to make it look like it isn’t quite 100% perfect, I’m just giving it top marks anyway. Seriously: Slanted & Enchanted. It’s on a par with it, and at its own game. Well done, Johnny Foreigner. Thank you for fully justifying my hyperbole and love.

Actually I’m going to take a break from it now before I get bored and don’t love it as much. Still:
100%
No, wait, maybe:
98%
(Aw, who knows…) - LINE OF BEST FIT


"JOHNNY FOREIGNER - GRACE AND THE BIGGER PICTURE REVIEW"

It often seems to be the case that as some bands rise in prominence and popularity, they begin to lose some of the flair that launched them on their journey in the first place. Their perspectives become distorted and they can some of their ability to relate to their audience. Luckily, based on the strength of their second album, this won't be the case with Johnny Foreigner.

Grace and the Bigger Picture is an album that leaves you gasping for breath by the end of it. From the very opening, the Birmingham-based trio reveal themselves to be a tightly knit musical force, buzzing with a poetic energy ready to discharge at any given moment. Although the record's 15 tracks are short-lived, they are by no means lacking in musical material and ingenuity; think of each song as having been written in full and then put in a car crusher, not to mention intensified further thanks to Alex Newport's gritty production sensibilities.

Unique in its honesty, the songs mainly concern the members' personal experiences of being in the band, recording and touring. While as a general concept this may not whet the appetite of the masses (I'm sure that's a U2 album we could all do without), Johnny Foreigner have used this to create a moving, deeply personal record. It often feels like the vocal trade-offs between the members of the band stand as more of a dialogue, perhaps even an argument at times.

It's the bipolarity of the music that has the most immediate effect; one moment quietly contained, the next exploding in an aggressive blast of distortion, it quickly becomes very easy to forget that this is the noise of just three people. It takes almost ten minutes of in-your-face outpouring before all this energy finally dissipates in the beautiful 'I'll Choose My Side And Shut Up, Alright'. However, this only serves to make bassist Kelly Southern's softly sung mini-ballad all the more touching, before the trio smash back with renewed energy in the collective bitterness of 'Criminals'.

Above all, it has to be said that the record is brilliantly structured. Rather than just a collection of songs, the use of repeated motifs ensures a cohesive album that culminates in the stunning 'The Coast Was Always Clear' where lyrics and themes from the entire album are all tossed into the mix as the music reaches its eardrum shattering finish. A definite step forward from their debut Waited Up 'til It Was Light, Grace and the Bigger Picture is, in short, an album for Johnny Foreigner to be proud of and a great advertisement for a band that deserves to be recognised. Somehow, they've managed to connect with the heart of human experience just by writing songs specifically about their time together as a band. With end results like this, it's a concept they certainly shouldn't drop just yet.

Rich Powell - CONTACT MUSIC


Discography

Sometimes, In The Bullring (7" single)
Yes! You talk Too Fast/ Ninki Vs. Dingle (Split 7" single with Sunset Cinema Club)
Arcs Across The City (CD EP)
Waited Up 'Til It Was Light (CD album)
Our Bipolar Friends (single)
Eyes Wide Terrified (single)
Salt, Peppa and Spinderella (single)
Lea Room/ DJs Get Doubts (Double A side single)
Grace And The Bigger Picture (CD album)
Feels Like Summer (single)
Criminals (single)

Photos

Bio

There was Alexei, then there was Jr, and then there was Kelly. They met at a stamp collecting fair... or did they?