Photo credit: Paul Grace
JOHN finally stop teasing us at LTW with another slab of brain melting genre avoiding punk noise that’s ready to hit the venues across the country and into the USA. If you think they’re mellowing out for album number four you need your heads testing! Plus there’s some surprise guests! Read on!
Today, cryptically-named duo JOHN – comprised of John Newton (drums, lead vocals) and Johnny Healey (guitar, backing vocals) – announce their fourth album, A Life Diagrammatic. The follow-up to 2021’s Nocturnal Manoeuvres LP, which broke new ground for the band by crashing the top 75 of the UK album chart, it arrives Sept 22nd via Brace Yourself and Pets Care Records. Its release in September will be accompanied by a tour of UK record shops in the week following release as well as the band’s debut North American live run happening throughout October.
News of A Life Diagrammatic’s imminent arrival is accompanied by new single Service Stationed – which features guest vocals from Leona Farrugia of the ever-rising Anglo-Maltese quartet ĠENN – a propulsive example of JOHN at the peak of their powers, building an inescapable atmospheric presence from undulating guitar riffs, pounding drums and Newton’s distinct guttural bark, all packaged in a neat three-minute, shining exterior.
“We immediately liked the propulsion of the song in the rehearsal room, I liked to think it mirrored the driving motion of the band’s outlook.” says Newton. “Trying to challenge ourselves by not automatically relying on repeatable tried and tested methods. I think that’s one of the reasons why we’re still a band after a decade.”
“Simultaneously, the idea of a forward projection is contained in the thematics of the song too. There’s a pretty vampiric desire for progression in our present day, which is there to consistently generate new capital – even if it’s simply a masquerade of recycled matter proclaiming newness. This is often a fraught quest, diminishing quality in favour of retaining attention. It’s obviously something that has penetrated musical culture and this flash-in-the-pan attitude is something we’ve tried to steer clear of throughout our creative journey.”
“The song lyrically nods to the figure of William Morris: a figure who fought against the tide of industry in history. He was buried not far from my home town – a housing estate built over the railway tracks which transported his body to his resting place. A somewhat appropriate symbol I thought, especially as I wondered what he would’ve thought of the convenience culture that has accelerated since his death.”
Recorded by Tom Hill at The Bookhouse in South London, mixed by Seth Manchester (METZ, Big Brave, Battles) and mastered by Frank Arkwright (Arab Strap, Squarepusher, Autechre) with the aim of merging the powerful live presence of the band whilst also honing in on some of the more varied dynamics at play. “We wanted to further explore the space and ambience of our instrumentation,” says Newton. “To offer an album that deliberately pushes and pulls in a multitude of directions throughout its duration.”
And the resulting album does just that. From the opening At Peacehaven, it locks into a groove that marries taut and explosive rhythms with an immersive textural approach that owes as much to eruptions of noise as it does moments of restraint. This sense of balance, contrast and duality is fundamentally at the heart of JOHN. They are an outfit who on the surface are stripped back to a bare bones essence, a format perhaps lazily synonymous with just primitive rock, yet their work is richly layered and multifaceted – resulting in something that eschews and evades easy genre categorisation.
This is crystalised in the band’s name too. It may appear to be a simple play on the pair’s name but search harder for deeper meaning and you’ll be rewarded with something that contains not only artistic thought but also a mission statement that has been integral to the band’s creative process over the last decade. “It’s a statement against colouring the music with superfluous attachments,” explains Newton. “It says: ‘we’re not going to be sensational’. It doesn’t mean to say it’s not intensely theatrical but I think there’s enough theatre in the actual energy that’s on the stage.”
This approach is perfectly embodied by the guests who appear on the album. Often familiarly placed front and centre, actor Simon Pegg, who appears here on Media Res, is almost buried under a grainy, scratchy monologue-led track. It’s a piece that is influenced by Brecht-ian theatrical methods “aimed to strip away needless aesthetics and to encourage the audience to take an active spectatorship in the theatre”.
The same can be said of Barry Adamson’s appearance on Riddley Scott Walker. For JOHN, it was what Adamson represented that was key to his inclusion rather than simply a name. “It’s great to have someone who understands a similarly cinematic approach to music,” says Newton. “Especially having created music for David Lynch’s Lost Highway and his own imaginary film score Moss Side Story.”
The duo teased the album in April with new single Trauma Mosaic, another pristine example of the band’s subtle evolution in recent years as they continue to redefine and expand the parameters of what a guitar and drums two-piece can be. Driven forward by a crushed drum sample that began as a playful experiment, it finds Newton layering his vocals in an almost chant-like manner before cyclical guitars erupt in classic JOHN fashion and we’re reminded of the primal power the pair possess.
News of Trauma Mosaic was accompanied by word of the duo’s North American live bow taking place across October of this year as they head out on a near month-long run through Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Toronto, Philadelphia, New York and many more in between. Having developed a reputation as one of the most uncompromisingly powerful propositions on the UK live circuit over the past decade – and one with a fiercely devoted cult following – it marks a thoroughly well-deserved next step for one of the country’s most beloved indie-rock institutions. For those closer to home, you can also catch the band on a run of UK in-stores across the last week of September. Please find a full touring itinerary further below.
July 8th | Bordeaux, FR – Jalles House Rock Festival
Sept 22nd | Southsea, UK – Staggeringly Good Brewery (Out-Store)
Sept 23rd | Brighton, UK – Resident (In-Store)
Sept 24th | Bristol, UK – Rough Trade Bristol (In-Store)
Sept 28th | Kingston, UK – Banquet Records (In-Store)
Sept 29th | Nottingham, UK – Rough Trade Nottingham (In-Store)
Sept 30th | London, UK – Rough Trade East (In-Store)
Oct 3rd | Phoenix, AZ – Linger Longer Lounge
Oct 4th | Los Angeles, CA – The Echo
Oct 5th | Santa Ana, CA – Constellation Room
Oct 7th | San Francisco, CA – Brick and Mortar
Oct 10th | Seattle, WA – Sunset Tavern
Oct 11th | Portland, OR – Mission Theater
Oct 13th | Salt Lake City, UT – The DLC
Oct 14th | Denver, CO – Skylark Lounge
Oct 17th | St. Louis, MO – Off Broadway
Oct 18th | Chicago, IL – Schubas
Oct 20th | Toronto, ON – The Baby G
Oct 21st | Columbus, OH – The Basement
Oct 24th | Philadelphia, PA – Kung Fu Necktie
Oct 25th | Washington, DC – DC9
Oct 26th | Brooklyn, NY – St. Vitus
Jan 5th-7th | Bognor Regis, UK – Rockaway Beach Festival
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Forewords by Wayne Carey, Reviews Editor for Louder Than War. His author profile is here
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