Seldom do a banjo and a synthesizer find parallel roles throughout an album, but that is the case with North Elementary frontman John Harrison’s debut as Jphono1 with Living Is Easy. He blends harmonica, acoustic guitar and banjo with whirring synths, droning organs and programmed beats to create mellow tunes that could complement a sunny drive or a rainy day indoors.
Jphono1 allows Harrison to add a bit more experimentation to his sound while giving his music a more intimate feel. The album opens with the sustained organ and flanged synth of “Weed Machine,” one of two instrumental tracks and also its longest, clocking in at three minutes.
Living is Easy
Dive Verdict: 4.5 of 5 stars
As with all of the other songs on the album, “Weed Machine” has an acoustic guitar melody at its core, with Harrison adding several embellishing layers as the song progresses. The song closes with howling slide guitars that fade into “Walkman,” which hearkens back to George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” with its slide guitar hooks and half-spoken lyrics.
With “Crossbones on Myself,” Harrison drops the production value for an airy lo-fi track that sounds like a jug band recorded on a country street corner. Animal noises and bustling voices compete with the instruments and Harrison’s voice form the main attraction of the song.
All of the nuances on Living Is Easy beg to be listened to with a nice set of headphones. Without proper equipment, it’s easy to miss the bass buildup on “Weed Machine” or the undulating synths on “March Madness” that really change the feel of those songs.
Despite incongruous instrumentation, Jphono1 excels at combining traditional songwriting with noisier landscapes. Living Is Easy proves to be full of great songs on the surface, but with a lot more substance underneath.
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