“Now I dance to my own beat” echoes like a revelation, from single Preach, off Daniel Johns‘ debut solo album Talk. And, he certainly does. On a dance floor of musical sensibilities, he is the one bold enough to dance alone. Coming out of an eight-year musical hiatus, there has been plenty of time for introspection, experimentation and as Johns puts it, getting “really weird”. The artist confesses that he spent a lot of time inside his house making music that tested the limits, with no intention of releasing anything for a long time. With this in mind, the latest output from the ex-Silverchair front man is surprisingly accessible.
When the first track from the album, Aerial Love, dropped early this year, fans marveled, haters rebuked, and the rest of us held our breath. The ethereal pop song infiltrated the airwaves, and I found myself falling for this 90’s idol all over again, but this time in a different way. A voice that once encapsulated all the angst of youth now had a tempered weight. The song itself, with its subdued melodies and sensual tones, was reminiscent of neo-soul in the realms of James Blake or Frank Ocean, but seemed to promise something bigger.
Once the album was released on May 22, Talk proved to be an album of dichotomies. With fifteen tracks clocking in at just under an hour, it feels long and unrefined. I get the sense that Johns is lost in a sea of tracks, grasping to keep them all afloat, reluctant to let his progeny hit the cutting room floor. I don’t want to use the word “filler” but songs Sleepwalker (a definite yawnfest) and Warm Hands (a cold and guileless ballad) barely make a blip on the radar of highly produced sound.
That being said, having to push the skip button now and again to arrive at achingly amazing tracks like the aforementioned Preach, or the uplifting Cool on Fire is surely forgiveable. The latter was co-written and produced by Joel Little (Lorde/Jarryd James,) and a video clip was released to coincide with the album.
The clip has a certain Sia-esque essence, but instead of being enthralled by tiny dancer Maddie Ziegler, viewers are bewitched by Johns himself. The symbol of sand carries from the Aerial Love video, and Johns’ cements his artistic sensibilities by unfolding each part of this release with an overarching story.
To close out the album there is the haunting track New York with sparse instrumentation and strained vocals, followed by the borderline irritating falsetto and dark glitch reverberations of Good Luck. Maybe Johns sums it up perfectly in his own words:
“I’ve always felt like most people hate everything I do but thankfully there’s always been an enthusiastic minority who seem to ‘get’ it. That’s fine with me. Anything that appeals to everyone tends to suck anyway… That was part of why I picked the album title too by the way. I don’t really care what most people think. Let them talk.”
And it certainly has people talking. Whether you’re wishing for a grunge revival, or getting down to the sultry synth, everyone seems to have something to say. While I may not get every moment, I am glad that Daniel Johns is back dancing to his own beat, unafraid to reinvent himself and look forward to what might come next.