Features, Muse

REVIEW: Jack Johnson’s “All the Light Above it Too” offers advice in relatable lyrics

Jack Johnson releases his new album “All the Light Above It Too” Sept. 8 through Brushfire Records. PHOTO COURTESY WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Laidback and dreamy Jack Johnson recaptured hearts with “All the Light Above it Too,” released last Friday. Known for his acoustic skills and wholesome lyrics, Johnson reinforces his staple features, mixed with some surprise in the 10-track album.

Opening with the song “Subplots,” Johnson draws the listener in with the familiar island-sounding bright acoustics and soft chorus. However, this song is definitely a favorite on the album not because of the predictability, but the depth of the lyrics.

“Which part of yourself can you afford to lose?” he questions to the listener, who is fraught with the multitude of “subplots” in their life. He makes the listener question their priorities in life, and he offers solace in his simplicity. Coupled with the hopefully whimsical chords, the song is an immediate pick-me-up.

Johnson also introduces the album’s title in “Subplots,” singing, “All the light under the sun / All the light above it too / Is gonna rise and shine / It don’t shine for you.”

This might seem a little discouraging, but he presents a choice: choose a lonely path of worry, or choose to see the light in all our lives that connects us, even in worry.

Johnson continues in his album with a beautiful blending between songs, and makes sure to keep his traditional sound. It’s toe-tapping, rainy day, café music that you can work or even fall asleep to.

“Sunsets for Somebody Else,” sounds familiar to Johnson’s popular song “Banana Pancakes” from his 2005 album “In Between Dreams.” This new song is its complement, a wind down to go to sleep with a lover, and “Banana Pancakes” a gentle wakeup. Both of them together is the perfect ending and beginning to a day.

However, Johnson experiments with much more than his soft rock and acoustic influences in this album.

Most notably, the song “Gather” has a harder indie rock vibe that almost sounds like a tribal dance. Its heavy use of percussion and woodwinds is strange for Johnson. Match that with the cryptic lyrics, “And others gonna have to kill /  With everybody so preoccupied / Who’s gonna pay the bills?”

It sounds like Johnson is defining roles played by people in a society, those with duties and those who “take it too far.” However, it is definitely a strange deviation from the happy-go-lucky Johnson we all know, both lyrically and musically. It breaks the coherence of the album and is more unsettling than anything.

Another experiment for Johnson is “Love Song #16,” which features a heavy use of staccato sounds and electric guitar, a shock from the carefully blended songs before it. The lyrics long for past memories, but also describes occasional hardships in life. Yet, in true Johnson style, the song ends with rejoicing in life’s simple pleasures and finding love.

Following this trend and playing on Johnson’s “Curious George” phase, “My Mind Is For Sale” feels like a childhood song with its excitably jumpy rhythm and instruments.

However, the lyrics are a social critique of the division between us versus them. The combination of the basic music and deep lyrics hit home in unexpected ways, because it’s easy to listen to and learn what he’s trying to convey.

Johnson flits with location and his upbringing as well, with “Big Sur.” The island influences from his childhood in the North Shore of Oahu can be heard in the way the guitar is played.

The lines, “Behind the wheel against the road … The central thought within my mind / Is how to stay within these lines,” gives a chuckle to anyone who has dared drive on Highway One. The song feels like summertime.

The end of this album features a song, titled “Fragments,” from the film “The Smog of the Sea,” in which Johnson takes part in a one-week journey through remote waters searching out the impact of abandoned plastics in the oceans. “Fragments” frames the story of the journey that he took with scientists, analyzing the adverse effects of even the tiniest particle of plastic.

“Why can’t we relate?” he asks. “With ourselves with what we open / Up when it’s too late.” He asks the listener to take responsibility with the damage plastics do to the Earth, before we can’t do anything about it.

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