The Swedish duo JJ arrived in 2009 with an air of cultivated mystery, withholding their identities and releasing a slew of suitably cryptic, reference-laden pop records. Scrupulous listeners found specific melodies and lyrics liberally lifted from dance music and hip-hop hits like Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop.” JJ was eventually outed as Joakim Benon and Elin Kastlander. Now, the pair’s third album, V, appears in a musical climate where stylistic synthesis doesn’t feel so novel. Since they’re a well-known quantity, we’re free to engage with JJ’s songs, rather than their references.
V is resplendent with lush reverb, synth washes and impeccably balanced electronic percussion, but unlike the 1990s pop vocals, R&B and Balearic dance that V‘s surface qualities evoke, JJ’s beats are fleeting and fickle. The instrumentation drops out repeatedly, leaving little more than Kastlander’s opulent vocal melodies to bridge separate sections. “Fagelsangen” sets strings and Auto-Tuned vocals to ambient house flourishes, but there’s no pulse or groove. Noncommittal song arrangements blur the lines between tracks on V; it’s easy to enjoy all the way through, but difficult to recall specific moments afterward.
There are highlights; “Inner Light” is exceptional because it strikes a charming thematic dissonance between disparate parts: Kastlander coos about the club over an acoustic guitar, then the song veers toward garishly pitch-shifted vocals before dissolving into sounds of the jungle. The thread running throughout V is a mood: breezy and wistful, but it’s not given adequate support. There are references (a Celine Dion melody to start and Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party,” whose lines were retooled on Drake’s 2011 album Take Care, for instance), but it’s a chore, not a game, to tease them out.