Have you ever found yourself stretched out and sun-warmed on the white sands of a Hawaiian paradise, with nothing but a large zoot and a battered old guitar to keep you company? Me neither. But after listening to Jack Johnson’s 7th studio album, All The Light Above It Too, I’m not sure I need to in order to know how it feels.
If you’ve listened to Jack Johnson before you’ll be familiar with the trademark intimate, husky vocals, soft acoustic guitar and blissed-out tempos that come together to paint the picture of a relentlessly cool dude. All The Light Above It Too does not exactly buck this trend, but there’s a lot more to the album than just sun, sea and sand.
Indeed, the opening track ‘Subplots’ introduces an interesting duality between sound and subject that runs throughout Johnson’s latest album. Its melody is chilled out and cheerful, based mainly around Johnson’s gentle acoustic guitar playing, with only subtle additions of bass, some slide guitar and light percussion to create a pleasingly organic, clean sound.
But beneath the laid back, beach bum vibe, Jack Johnson introduces a contemplative conversation about wider societal issues. ‘Subplots’ suggests that people have become so caught up in the meaningless dramas of their lives that they have forgotten about the bigger universal narrative unfolding around them. And this combination of carefree, positive melody underpinned by an insightful message is the common denominator of All The Light Above It Too’s ten tracks.
‘Sunsets for Somebody Else’ is so stripped back and dreamy that you can almost smell the sun cream and hear the surf, and yet when you focus in on the lyrics Johnson is touching eloquently on the ever oppressive presence of the media with lines such as “can’t this world afford to sleep anymore?”.
‘My Mind is For Sale’ mourns the “careless, me-first-gimme-gimme appetite” of modern politics and the precariously unreal reality that is presented to us via social media, all whilst disguised as a gentle, no-fucks given tropical tune.
I thought that ‘Gather’ was one of the stand-out tracks on the album, as it provides a surge of energy after the more nonchalant songs that preface it, with an injection of tribal drums and strange electronic glitches that bring to mind Alt-J. The only track not to draw some sort of social commentary is ‘Love Song #16’, which consists, unsurprisingly, of a beautifully romantic ditty to Jack Johnson’s wife; the amalgamation of stripped back acoustics and incredibly personal lyrics creates a refreshing, and rather adorable, pause in Johnson’s meditation on the modern world.
Overall, All The Light Above it Too creates an organic, coastal sound that could quite easily give the illusion that Jack Johnson has never had to worry about a thing in his life, except perhaps what time the tide comes in. Therefore, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this ambiance would detract from the potentially conflicting lyrical messages that worry over a high paced, frightening modern world. But this dichotomy only serves to emphasise an alternative to the unpleasant reality; Johnson muses over the simultaneous pain and pleasure of surrendering to a collective experience and the importance of just letting go.
Indeed, the utterly relaxed and care-free sound to Jack Johnson’s songs merely highlight that you can either panic about the earthly issues that he describes, or you can chose to focus on “all the light above it” – the bigger picture of the universe, and what silly, insignificant beings we really are in the grand scheme of things.
It’s clear to see which option Jack Johnson has picked. All The Light Above It cleverly maintains a balance between beautifully subtle, positive songs, whilst offering opportunities for bigger ideas and reflection.
‘My Mind is For Sale’ – Jack Johnson
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