It was a really special time in my life when JJ,f.k.a. jj, came out with their first proper album jj n° 2. It was my junior year of college and my best friend’s last semester of her senior year. Our time together was limited and coming to a close, and jj n° 2 was one of several albums that we were both head over heels in love with. The album soundtracked our rides in the car, our study sessions in the library, and even the weekend that we both caught the swine flu and were too sick to do anything but be completely miserable together. Funny how your love for something like an album can be bolstered when experienced together with someone you love dearly.
And though my love for JJ grew in conjunction with my friend, there were a lot of reasons why jj n° 2 became such a staple listen for me at that time; reasons that weren’t simply because of the environment I heard it in. The album was so bizarre in such a peculiar way, mostly stemming from the Swedish duo’s penchant for anonymity—an Internet ploy that, at that time, had yet to become a full-blown gimmick strategy. And yet on the surface, JJ’s music seemed almost conventional. Specializing in particularly dreamy Balearic pop, the band’s music was delicate and beautiful. But it was the bedrock that they founded it on that cemented their place in the realm of the strange. Odd samples, ghostly production, and an affinity for hip-hop that manifested itself in off-kilter but completely convincing ways; it all worked.
Unfortunately, after jj n° 2, the duo succumbed to the dreaded sophomore slump in the form of their follow-up album jj n° 3. A plodding mess of an album, jj n° 3 was simply pushed out too early in what was probably an attempt to hold onto whatever hype was leftover from their excellently-received debut. Though it held a few solid singles, the album failed to maintain the mystery and charm of their deftly executed debut. Then from there it seemed as if JJ lost their footing a bit, stumbling from EP to mixtape to EP in a series of releases that were hit or miss at best. I don’t want to say that I had completely given up on the band, but I seriously began to doubt that the band would deliver a truly satisfying follow-up to jj n° 2. But then came V.
Embracing proper capitalization in a way that they never have before, the newly christened JJ feel like they are getting back to their roots on their third full-length album V. This album is a refresher course on JJ in the sense that it hearkens back to what made the group such an unexpected pleasure in the first place. I’d like to think that the band is doing this intentionally and that I’m not reading into things. For starters, there are small musical callbacks to their debut album, callbacks like the skittering accordion sounds that open the album that only those who have fully digested both albums will pick up on. They even go as far as to sample a track from their debut in a blink-and-miss-it moment on the instrumental opening.
Then there is the fact that the album features a song called “Dean & Me,” a track that acts as a sequel of sorts to jj n° 2 closer and highlight “Me & Dean.” The lost love on “Dean & Me” resurfaces on “Dean & Me” with Elin hitting rock bottom as she resorts to calling up this special other singing, “I know I’m drunk, I know it’s late, but I will call you anyway.” It feels good with her reaching out to this love of hers because it feels like we are also reconnecting with the JJ that we fell in love with back in 2009. With V, JJ are bridging any missteps that they’ve taken since their debut and are showing listeners that they remember who they really are, and more importantly, that they still have a lot to offer.
I suppose the main reason why V resonates with me on such an emotional level is that it takes me back to those important few months in my life. But just as things have changed a lot in the lives of me and my dear friend, the music of V is worlds away from the scrappy nature of JJ’s charming debut. Everything here seems so much more lush, the production feels like a warm blanket, and Elin and Joakim flex a confidence that has been honed in their time as a duo. It’s certainly been an interesting five years for JJ, but for all of the ups and downs that their career has taken, they’ve come back around to make good on all of the promises that they made back when everything began. The years have aged us and we are all different people now, but then again, maybe we aren’t. JJ are keen to show us that they are still those people and, well, I’m more than happy enough to let them take my ears back with them and listen.
V is out now via Sincerely Yours & Secretly Canadian.