There is a reason that JOHN are called JOHN. Granted, the drummer and vocalist is John Newton and the guitarist is Johnny Healey, but there is more to it than the obvious. The duo did not want to create an expectation based on a band name. Thus its neutrality. Instead the focus is all on the delivery and energy onstage, and of course the music. On ‘A Life Diagrammatic’ they continue to evolve and still deliver on their powerhouse soundscape.
Opener ‘At Peachhaven’ is immediately ambitious in sound and scale. A fitting start however it does have a shifting pace throughout the track, with echoey guitars creating a thrilling atmosphere. Experimentation is never far away with JOHN and on ‘Media Res’ the actor Simon Pegg provides the vocals on a grainy, scratchy monologue-led track. Surprising and intriguing the listener is never too sure what’s happening, or where it’s going – and that’s the point. ‘Côte D’Adur’ takes us back to the furious drums and guitar. John Newton’s vocal delivery ebbs and flows, tinged with anger in sections and calmer in others. Creating cinematic sonic landscapes has been a development through JOHN’s evolution and this is particularly evident on ‘Côte D’Adur’. This continues on ‘A Submersible’ which begins with a pulsating signal reminiscent of a submarine. Lyrically it suggests a frustration with modern life and its challenges.
‘A Whole House’ is a track full of electricity with the guitar of Healey taking centre stage, its twang creating an atmosphere full of gothic tension. ‘Service Stationed’ sets off at pace. The title is a smart play on words, and with its ear-worm of ‘Keep On Keeping On’ suggests the need to continue moving forward, even if the treadmill feels tedious. The track ‘Construction Site / Summer 22’ begins calmly enough albeit with Healey’s scuzzy guitar. It soon switches to a less distorted vocal and then reverts back, almost akin to the stop start of construction work. The outro creates the image of drilling. The second section referred to as ‘Summer_22’ is built from four recordings of the walls Newton’s bedroom that sat in the middle of a demolition site in the Summer of 2022.
‘Trauma Mosaic’ gives the listener something a little different with its percussion at the forefront and the vocal which is more sung and less distorted. The track has a tubthumping pace to it and I suspect will become a real favourite live. Earth shaking current single ‘Riddley Scott Walker’ includes Barry Adamson (Bad Seed, Magazine). The title is from the Russell Hoban novel Riddley Walker, which imagines a post-nuclear war future in which society has regressed and history has been obliterated to such an extent its open to widespread misinterpretation. It’s a thunderous track, and its theme is relevant in today’s climate of fake news.
‘A Life Diagrammatic’ ends with ‘The Common Cold’, a foreboding song, sitting within an industrial soundscape. Slower paced it’s nonetheless gripping in its intensity. The distorted vocals and static fuelled white noise seem to send out a warning. The quieter mid-section have both guitars and drums stripped right back but the bursts of scratchy static add a tension to the overall vibe. ‘The Common Cold’ fades out leaving uncertainty and thus curiosity in its wake.
‘A Life Diagrammatic’ demonstrates progression in JOHN’s sound, an album still hugely impacted by their surrounding environment, and influenced by the social and political implications of the creation and maintenance of that environment. JOHN don’t fit in any box. Long may that continue.
Words: Julia Mason