In music, some artists are content to jump onto the latest bandwagon, in the search of fame and fortune. Other artists however, are musical mavericks. They’re determined not to stand still. Instead, their raison d’être is to create music that pushes musical boundaries. As a result, with each album, their music evolves and constantly changes direction. That’s the case with Gothenburg based producer, Johan Agebjörn.
Since 2006, Johan Agebjörn, has released a quartet of albums and a dozen remixes. Each of these releases are very different. Johan has refused to stand still. No. He constantly reinvent his music. Johan it seems, is a musical shapeshifter. That’s been the case since his 2006, when Johan released his debut album and began living a musical double life.
Johan, it seemed wasn’t content to embark upon a solo career. He decided to lead a double life, as a member of Italo disco group Sally Shapiro. Since then, Sally Shapiro have released seven albums, and four solo albums. However, four will become five, when Johan Agebjörn releases Notes on the Paper Bag label on February 10th 2015.
Notes, which is best described as dreamy, ethereal and melancholy, is an album of mostly instrumental soundscapes. Joining Johan on his latest ambient offering, Notes, are guest vocalists Sally Shapiro, Loney Dear and Young Galaxy. They play walk-on parts in Notes, which sees Johan Agebjörn change direction yet again.
That’s been the case throughout Johan Agebjörn’s career. Since his 2006 debut album Music With Less Electricity, he’s released everything from ambient and electro, right through to Italo disco, 8bit and classical piano music. Eclectic, it seems, is the best way to describe the Gothenburg based musical adventurer, whose career began in 2006.
It was back in 2006, that Johan Agebjörn embarked upon his musical double life. He released his debut album, Music With Less Electricity on the Swedish label Husmus Media. The same year, Johan joined forces with disco pop princess Sally Shapiro.
The two Gothenburg based musicians formed the Italo disco duo, and released their debut single Anorak Romance in 2006. Later that year, Sally Shapiro released their debut album Disco Romance. This was just the start of Johan’s musical double life.
Two years after releasing his debut solo album, Johan released his sophomore album, Mossebo. It featured vocalist Lisa Barra on five of the eleven tracks. On its release, in 2008, Mossebo was well received by critics. Johan’s music was evolving, and the critics approved. Meanwhile, Sally Shapiro had been busy.
During 2008, two volumes of remixes of Sally Shapiro tracks were released. Remix Romance Volume 1, and then Remix Romance Volume 2, saw DJs transform Sally Shapiro’s original track. This whetted record buyers appetite for Sally Shapiro’s second studio album.
Just a year later, in 2009, Sally Shapiro returned with what was essentially their sophomore album, the aptly titled, My Guilty Pleasure. After all, Johan was living a double life, flitting between his solo career and Sally Shapiro, which was his guilty pleasure. With Sally Shapiro, Italo disco was given a noughties makeover. This struck a nerve with DJs and dancers. So, in 2010, Sally Shapiro released My Guilty Pleasure-Remixes. This was the last Sally Shapiro album for three years.
During this three year period, Johan was kept busy. He released two solo albums in 2011, Casablanca Nights and The Mountain Like. Johan and Ercola collaborated on their 2011 single The Last Days Of Summer. This wasn’t Johan’s only collaboration. He also collaborated with Le Prix on the Watch The World Go By in 2011. That was the last we heard from Johan as a solo artist until now.
Sally Shapiro however, were busy. They released What Can I Do as a single in 2012. Then 2013 was a busy year for Sally Shapiro. Somewhere Else became Sally Shapiro’s third studio album. Hot on its heels came Elsewhere, an album of remixes. That’s not all. Sally Shapiro released a remix of If It Doesn’t Rain and Starman, their collaboration with Electric Youth for Elsewhere. 2013 had been another big year for Italo disco’s pop princess. However, what about Johan Agebjörn’s solo career?
Johan had been contemplating the direction his career was heading, when he was asked to do a remix for Jam & Spoon. Whilst he was doing the remix, he needed what he describes as “a cheap electric piano sound.” That’s when he first encountered the Casio MT-52, a cheap keyboard from the early eighties. It was never envisaged as being used by professional musicians. No. The Casio MT-52 was favoured mostly by amateur musicians. However, having discovered the Casio MT-52, it changed the way Johan worked.
Whereas previously Johan used without the kind of drum, bass and pad sounds on previous albums, he eschews them on Notes. Instead, he uses the Casio MT-52 extensively on Notes. The Casio MT-52 “turned out to be the perfect sound to express feelings I had inside me that I wanted to turn into music.” This resulted in a eureka moment for Johan.
Whilst recording Notes, Johan realised how much his previous recordings have been influenced by the electronic music of the eighties and nineties. That’s not surprising. It’s writ large all over his four previous albums. Not Notes though. Notes you’ll realise, is a stylistic departure from Johan Agebjörn.
The Right To Play opens Notes. It has a jaunty minimalist arrangement, one that almost skips joyously along. Later, synth strings compliment he lo-fi keyboards, before a dark bass adds an ominous backdrop. Soon, percussion and sound effects flit in, and out. They add to what’s already a captivating track, one that whets your appetite for the rest of Notes.
Spin My Head Through Times is best described as a short, cinematic soundscape. A child’s vocal is cocooned amidst a crackling, analogue sound. Meanwhile a melancholy keyboard adds to the cinematic sound.
The arrangement to The Boy Who Thought It Was A Good Idea To Cry literally bounds, carefully along. This arrangement is made up of layers of instruments and sound effects. They veer between dark and broody, to angelic and ethereal. Key to the track are the big, bold, confident keyboards. They’re aided and abetted by a bass synth, synth strings and sound effects. They’re responsible for this compelling fusion of ambient, classical and electronic music.
Malala’s Dream is another of the short soundscapes on Notes. At just over a minute long, it’s akin to the soundtrack to a new day summer day dawning.
The Leftovers features the first of the guest artists, Lonely Dear. Flourishes of keyboards and washes of ethereal synths are joined by dark, dramatic and ominous drums. They provide the backdrop to Lonely Dear’s heartfelt vocal, which sits in the middle of washes of the swirling arrangement. It has a noticeable eighties, nineties influence, where drama and emotion are omnipresent.
Ethereal and dreamy describes You Passed Through. Confident, strident keyboards, washes of synths, percussion and sound effects provide the backdrop to Young Galaxy’s vocal. It’s ethereal, needy and sensual. Literally, the arrangement cocoons and caresses her vocal. Later, the arrangement grows, matching the neediness in the vocal, which plays a starring role in this ethereal, dreamy tracks’s success.
Careful features mysterious, Italo disco, pop princess, Sally Shapiro. Johan moves through the gears, creating a bold, dramatic arrangement. Keyboards are played confidently, while washes of synths sweep in and out. Soon, drums pound and crack. Eventually, the mysterious diva makes an appearance. Her tender, fragile vocal sits back in the arrangement, sweeping in and out. This works. It adds to what sounds like a mid tempo ambient track, whose ethereal quality cocoons you.
Again, the sound of children playing opens Will They Forgive Us. Keyboards and a guitar play briskly. Washes of weeping synths add to what’s a beautiful, atmospheric soundscape. Later, drums are added, and drive this mesmeric soundscape along.
Alpha Beta Gamma features another of the guest artists, Brain Machine. Here, Johan has remixed the original track, giving it a dance-floor friendly sound. Atop the pumping 4/4 beats, sit glistening keyboards. Adding depth and a contrast is another synth. It sits below, filling out the arrangement to this driving dance track. It’s akin to an atmospheric musical journey through the Swedish countryside, aboard an SJ High-speed train.
It Was Never A Challenge To Love You has an understated introduction. It’s as if the arrangement is loathe to reveal its secrets. However, gradually, the arrangement unfolds. A bass synth, hissing hi-hats join percussion. Throughout the track, stabs of synths make their presence felt. They’re later joined by bursts of ethereal, angelic sounds. Surprises assail you, as gradually, It Was Never A Challenge To Love You reveals its secrets.
As a storm breaks, a piano plays and The Best Thing unfolds. A bold, broody bass is joined by a briskly played piano and keyboards drenched in reverb. Then there’s Sally Shapiro’s tender, dreamy vocal. It’s the perfect fit for the arrangement. They’re both suitably understated, as Sally proves to be yin to the arrangement’s yang, on one of Notes’ highlights.
On Golden Wings I Fly closes Notes. The sound of a deserted beach or desolate hillside, gives way to keyboards. As they play, you drift away. You loose yourself in this dreamy, ethereal and cinematic soundscape. Adding to the cinematic sound a sample of a child speaking. When it drops out, the cinematic sound becomes dreamy and ethereal, resulting in Notes closing on a high.
Four years after releasing his previous albums, Casablanca Nights and The Mountain Like, Johan Agebjörn returns with Notes, which will be released on the Paper Bag label on February 10th 2015. It’s the latest offering from a musical shapeshifter.
Since 2006, Johan Agebjörn, has released a quartet of solo albums. He’s also released seven albums with mysterious disco pop princess, Sally Shapiro. Each of these albums are very different. That’s what you’d expect from a musical changeling.
Throughout his career, Johan has constantly reinvented his music. He’s released he’s everything from ambient and electro, right through to Italo disco, 8bit and classical piano music. Eclectic, it seems, is the best way to describe the Gothenburg based musical chameleon. This is the case on Notes, Johan’s fifth album.
Notes is best described as cinematic, dramatic, dreamy, ethereal, melancholy and even, mesmeric. Sometimes Notes is beautiful, emotive, sensual and sultry. Other times Notes is bold and dark. Always, Johan Agebjörn’s fifth solo album, Notes, is a captivating and compelling album, that, full of surprises aplenty.