'Opium' is the tenth album from Swedish producer and songwriter Jay-Jay Johanson, regular collaborator with Robin Guthrie, and sure enough the Cocteau Twin makes an appearance on this fine ten-song set. High-powered guests, though, are by no means the best thing about this LP. It is to Johanson's enormous credit that Guthrie's appearance on the suitably sweeping and swooning 'Scarecrow' is simply another highlight on an album of highlights, rather than the records' centrepiece.
By the time an artist reaches album ten, the hope is that they would be hitting their stride - fully aware of what they're seeking to do, pushing at the bounds of possibility, dreaming new dreams, and envisioning new vistas of scope for their music. This is what Johanson does with 'Opium'; a remarkably consistent work.
For those not previously au fait with his work, Johanson melds sultry and bass groove-driven electronica to a smooth lead vocal. While this has led to him being described as "The great crooner of the electronica era", this should not imply any lack of depth - these are gloriously creative songs. 'Moonshine' is propelled on ricocheting drums and a synth brass riff, which moves all over the place but never makes anything less than perfect sense. 'I Love Him So' adds a murky inflexion, reminiscent of the best work of Portishead, as Johanson intones a lullaby atop its glacial beauty.
Elsewhere, 'I Don't Know Much About Loving' begins with a sumptuous, descending piano figure which flows into some equally tasty jazz chords, as a bass groove rumbles beneath, perhaps the best example here of the meeting of musical minds which this album pulls off so effortlessly.
Lurking in the midst of it all is just enough aggression, the odd hint of darkness, to ensure that the LP never loses its way in becoming saccharine sweet. Instead, 'Opium' wanders seamlessly to its own beat. It's time more of us picked up the rhythm and joined Jay-Jay on his musical journey.
Words: Haydon Spenceley
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