8 Jan 2011

Bedroom Music #1: Private Fantasies, jj's kills

The gorgeous photograph serving as cover art for jj's free-to-download (and therefore physically coverless) mixtape, kills, does more than capture some of the soft-edged, gauzy quality of the duo's sound, and of Elin Kastlander's voice. Like all images attached to internet releases, it provides a sense of materiality - of record as multi-sensory object. Moreover, though, it perfectly illustrates the key subject of the record. A boy's face, turned in light sleep upon snowy sheets, the whole image washed in a pink-grey filter, very close and tender and intimate. Private bedroom art. This is what jj address, in process as much as subject, on their mixtape: our personal and private relationships with songs, how they are recreated and recontextualised within the unique circumstances of our interior lives.

The mixtape is the ultimate vernacular bedroom artform. As home-recorded compilations, mixtapes represent our appropriation of music in the articulation of our own meanings, the curation of identity or formulation of an encoded message. Artist's mixtapes, especially in hip hop, involve related exercises in lo-fi bedroom creativity, writing oneself into a homemade diorama of personal household gods. But mixtapes represent us as listeners, consumers and fans, as well as creators and curators. As an artefact of the mysteries of personal cultural reception, kills demonstrates the specificity of our relationship with music, in both a passive mode - assigning meaning to songs as we adopt them into our lives - and a more active mode - projecting ourselves into the music as we use it to reconstitute our identities.

kills is comprised of a number of fully-formed songs, which use jj's new melodies and lyrics over borrowed, pre-existing tracks, patched together in a larger collage of samples and references. Most strikingly though, the record isn't produced as a continuous flow with a fluid beat, but instead repeatedly dissolves back into quiet or silence. The opening track, 'Still', begins with unaccompanied vocals, but so do the following two tracks, and this frequent recession into a place of stillness situate the vocalist-character in a lone, intimate setting, from which she explores each new sample: a bedroom with a record deck in an empty house at night. The overall impression is that what we're hearing is a dialogue between one woman and her music collection.

This dialogue is characterised in turn by fantasy and intimacy. Kastlander's fantasies are symptomatic of the freedom of one's own bedroom; it is where we dance most vehemently, where we sing along most sincerely, where we can pose in front of mirrors modelling our own underwear. It is with this sincerity that Kastlander enters the worlds of the global, ubiquitous, universal hip hop and R'n'B records that jj choose to engage with. On 'Pressure Is A Privilege', she provides a fantastic, original hook to Dr. Dre's 'Under Pressure' - her own imagined collaboration - while on 'Angels' and 'High End' she effectively orchestrates her own covers, weaving once-taut melodic fragments into clouds of half-remembered phrases. Yet most of the songs provide entirely new vocal melodies, and on these too she engages in fantasy, strutting dead-pan, sexy aggression on 'Still' and 'Die Tonight'. In both these cases, the powerful songs that she rides on in turn empower her privately, as she scowls and pouts at her reflection, while the woozy filters which occasionally swallow up the samples, or opalescent synths which envelop them, constantly re-orientate the mixtape back to a haven of duvets and pillows.

Such (Beautiful Dark Twisted) fantasies project the listener-fan into the super-powered modern arcadia of cosmopolitan clubland, but other songs on the mixtape penetrate in the other direction. The spryly anti-capitalist provocation that M.I.A. stirs up on 'Paper Planes' is transformed into something far more personal on 'Kill You', an example of how a famous song with a general message can be transformed into something uniquely pointed. But the way that the song is produced, with elements of the M.I.A. track rising and sinking in the mix as Kastlander's bitter lyrics draw in and out of line with them, suggests quite a literal sonic explanation of how very small units of meaning in songs - lines or phrases or mere sounds - can tap into great wells of personal significance. Another track, 'Kill Them', takes the deeply personal Akon epistle 'Right Now (Na Na Na)'  and explores an entirely different yet equally heartfelt (if confrontational) idea, developed through free-association with Akon's tender accompanying track.

It is symptomatic of the concept of a mixtape to re-perform processes of listening, appreciation and fandom, as well as to epitomise aspiration and fantasy, but jj capture this all the more strikingly thanks to their home style being so low key and intimate, and the attitude that this style adopts in relation to the larger-than-life music over which the Swedish duo obsess.

Download the whole mixtape for free here!!

jj - Let Them by neumagazine