Johnny Mafia: Sentimental (Howlin’ Banana) LP | CD | DL Out 21st May 2021 Johnny Mafia return with an album of tightly-wound sonic blasts and infectious hooks on Sentimental. The French quartet Johnny Mafia first hit our radar in 2018 with the release of their second album, Princes de l’Amour. The album was full […]
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Johnny Mafia return with an album of tightly-wound sonic blasts and infectious hooks on Sentimental.
The French quartet Johnny Mafia first hit our radar in 2018 with the release of their second album, Princes de l’Amour. The album was full of dense angular post-punk garage and was a sign of the strength of the French scene, alongside bands like Escobar. In their own ways, these bands were harnessing the drive of early grunge, bypassing the muscular form to hit straight into the bloodstream. On their new album, Sentimental, they’ve doubled down and ramped up the adrenalin to produce an album of great pop hooks buried within their sound, rearing their heads throughout to really grab you and throw you into the record.
They kick it off with that riotous intensity on the chaotic Split Tongue, paranoic swirling and pounding rhythms that bring them close to Bristol fuzz-psych merchants Turbowolf, brimming with bombastic energy. Recent single I’m Sentimental drips in early Sonic Youth fervour, more spacious reverb-drenched guitars giving way to forceful choruses that really rage. The video is a perfect representation of their Sugar Kane horrorshow.
Songs such as Phone Booth continue in that mould, but the band know full well the power they hold to shift up a few gears and let their poppier sensibilities take hold. New single Trevor Philippe is the perfect example and one of the highlights of the record. By letting the guitars chime instead of engulf, they allow the bass throughout the verses to dance and dictate the pace. The choruses hit and the band have a song that Rivers Cuomo still wishes he could write. Refused keeps it going, the band bouncing effortlessly between light and dark, marrying heaviness with crystalline sonics, the vocals always sliding over the top.
The band know exactly how and when to let up off the gas to stay on track. They drop back on Problem and let the song sway more without losing any of the vehemence. Love Me Love Me adds a perfect dose of the classic quiet-loud dynamic in pure Pixies style and No More Toes brings a slacker vibe to the melodies, but they refuse to pull any of their punches and ensure that they don’t brake too much. It’s something that they don’t employ fully until they reach the end of the record with On My Knees, signing off with a respite from the pandemonium.
Sentimental is an authentic rollercoaster of a record. It twists and turns, rises and drops you flailing into the next breakneck curve. Johnny Mafia are a band going from strength to strength, a pure joy to see and listen to. If the success they’re enjoying in France can spread, and they really deserve it to, they could hit some dizzying heights.
Sentimental is available now on pre-order from Howlin’ Banana Records.
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Words by Nathan Whittle. Find his Louder Than War archive here.
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LOUD WOMEN’s collective single Reclaim These Streets is a feminist anthem that features the voices of 64 vocalists coming together in mutual support for Women’s Aid. By the close-of-play yesterday, when it was released it had reached Number 3 in iTunes Alternative Chart and 44 in the main chart, thanks to massive grassroots support. Audrey […]
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LOUD WOMEN’s collective single Reclaim These Streets is a feminist anthem that features the voices of 64 vocalists coming together in mutual support for Women’s Aid.
By the close-of-play yesterday, when it was released it had reached Number 3 in iTunes Alternative Chart and 44 in the main chart, thanks to massive grassroots support.
Audrey J. Golden had a chance to talk with the inimitable Brix Smith about her work on the song, and to chat about the power and joy inherent in reclaiming the streets.
LTW: So how’d you get involved in Reclaim These Streets with LOUD WOMEN? It’s such an important and timely project.
Brix: I got an email out of the blue from Charley Stone about doing the single for Women’s Aid. In the aftermath of the Sarah Everard murder and the vigil in London that went so wrong, we wanted to do this song and and get loads of women’s voices on it as a sort of Band Aid single—all different women pitching in different lines. So when I was asked if I’d lend my voice, I said absolutely.
LTW: I think the news of Sarah Everard’s murder was at once shocking to so many people, yet also, horrifically, a knowable form of violence against women.
Brix: The Sarah Everard murder and what came afterward struck a deep, deep chord with me. It was incredibly upsetting, as it was for absolutely everybody—shocking and upsetting and scary. When people started talking about the fear they felt—particularly women in this case, although there are plenty of people who feel fear in the streets, as we know—I realized that I personally had been living with this fear since I was a child. I grew up in Chicago in Hyde Park, which is on the South Side. I had to wear a rape whistle every day as a child around my neck just to walk to school. My parents drilled into me that if I felt uncomfortable, cross the street, don’t engage, don’t make eye contact. Those ideas transformed into an unconscious way of being as they assimilated into my psyche. And I still do those things today. As a woman, I wasn’t even consciously aware that I always had an underlying fear every time I left the house.
LTW: There’s more shared experience among women than we realize. Reclaim These Streets strikes me as a powerful way of harnessing that shared knowledge.
Brix: After the Sarah Everard murder, so many women started talking about how fearful they were in the streets, and I thought, whoa, maybe we don’t need to assume that this is just part of life and what you have to do as a woman. I started thinking about how it would be amazing to raise awareness about this shared fear and how it would be even more incredible if we could change this! What if this could be one thing that we could change in our culture? Obviously we’re never going to eradicate it entirely, but we can make people aware, and we can bring women together to understand that we’re more alike than we are different. We’re women, and we’re also human beings. We have many similar anxieties and vulnerabilities, and if we can all come together, we might be able to understand how those shared fears can make us more empathetic to everybody. So ultimately for me, the single was a way I could actually use my voice and my talent to help bring about that awareness and work toward change.
LTW: I love that aspect of the single, but I also know that trying to enact change can be difficult and sometimes demoralizing.
Brix: I’m a person for whom the glass is always half full. I’m super positive, and I don’t mind problems because a problem means you can find a solution. And when you find a solution, you can change something. Whenever someone brings a problem to me, I look for the best way through it, and I say thank you for that problem because now we can make it better. I think it’s important to be empathetic to everybody because all of us—certainly after this year—are suffering in so many ways that we don’t even know ourselves. So we must be gentle and kind with people, and look at things in a different way.
LTW: Yeah, the ways in which the pandemic has produced so many unexpected anxieties almost feels like too much to bear alongside the persistent and salient fears of gender-based violence that Reclaim These Streets addresses.
Brix: After this year personally, I’ve had so many other fears. I’ve lost two people during the pandemic and nearly lost two others, so I’ve been super fearful of the virus . . . fearful of a million things. This was like one fucking fear too many. It all began to pile up and I wanted to alleviate as many anxieties from my being that could possibly be alleviated. It becomes too much and begins to crush you, no matter how strong or positive you are. So I’m here to say I’m fragile, just like everybody.
LTW: I really appreciate you saying that. Thinking about the positive aspects of making change through song, your spoken word section of Reclaim These Streets is so powerful. How’d you develop it?
Brix: So let me go back to the beginning. I was asked to do the song—and I get asked periodically to chime in on things, and mostly I say no unless it resonates with something I’m passionate about or it’s a group of musicians who are close friends. I’m very apolitical. I never talk about my politics. That’s not what I do as a musician. If I can help someone through a dark phase or give them inspiration through music, that’s what I want to do. So with Reclaim These Streets, I first learned about who was on it, and I love some of the people like Deb Googe, who’s a really close friend, and Charley Stone. But I said first, send me the song, and second, send me the lyrics. Sometimes lyrics can be super cringey, and I’ll think, I can’t even let that come out of my mouth.
But they sent me the song, and I immediately thought, that’s really good, really indie and catchy. And then I looked at the lyrics, and the lyrics were great. They were really, really good and very direct. They said the things we all feel and do—text me when you get home, keys between the fingers—and it was eloquently written. But I also thought, whoa, the whole thing is very fear based. It needs a section, I thought, in the middle eight that’s empowering and lifts you above that fear, that unites everybody lyrically. If we take the focus away from fear for a little bit, we show what we can do with one mind, one consciousness, and one passion: we can change the world. I wanted to put that into words and insert it into the song, so that’s what I did.
LTW: Did you draw from personal experience in writing that section, or from experiences of friends and other women you know?
Brix: When I write, I channel. I’m an open channel. This is how I’ve always written music and lyrics: I sit down, I tune in, and I let it flow. Call it what you like—call it mediumship, call it automatic writing, call it tapping on the subconscious, call it your higher power. Whatever it is, I just let it come. And literally this section came in one go instantly. It was delivered to me. By who, I am not sure. I am but a receiver [laughs].
LTW: I love that characterization—it reveals how songwriting is a deeply creative act, but also a form of conjuring. Is that how you wrote in The Fall?
Brix: Yes, that’s exactly how I worked in The Fall. That’s also how Mark Smith worked, and that’s how we worked together.
LTW: That kind of songwriting also suggests that there’s a kind of collectivity, in some sense, in crafting lyrics, and Reclaim These Streets was such a large-scale collective effort. Can you say more about how all the pieces came together?
Brix: Songs are put together, usually, in a very piecemeal way. For Reclaim These Streets, it’s not like we all sat in a room to hang out. I knew the lines of the song, and then I knew what my part was and how I wanted to do it. I wanted to deliver it as a kind of one-note thing in three-part harmony. When I laid it down, there was a center voice, then a higher and lower voice so that all of a sudden it made a kind of vibrational impact—a little brain pivot for people listening.
LTW: Did you record entirely at home, or did you do some of the recording in a studio?
Brix: On the day that the bulk of it was recorded, some of the people couldn’t get to London where the session was, so they did it over Zoom or they recorded in their own studios. I actually didn’t want to do it in my studio—I wanted to go to the studio and do it there. So I went to the studio, but because of covid there was a kind of conveyor belt of different singers coming in and singing the same lines. I stayed the whole day because I wanted to see the process and to hear the different voices . . . . I was curious to hear how each person would approach those lines in their own way and what was going to come out of the ether. It was absolutely fascinating to see different people come into the studio, and there was so much love in the room. No egos at all, just everybody coming together for this one purpose. And each person brought something new and special to the table.
LTW: Were there some contributions that especially stood out?
Brix: You know, I’d been told that Reclaim These Streets was in some ways a bit similar to Band Aid’s Do You Know It’s Christmas? When I heard that, I thought, let me call my friend Siobhan [Fahey] from Bananarama and Shakespears Sister. Back in the day, she was one of only four women on that Band Aid single out of everybody in the 1980s. They had only four women. Three of them were Bananas and one was Jody Watley. And I said, wouldn’t it be a wonderful circle to have Siobhan sing on this as well? Siobhan said, absolutely I’ll do it! So we went to her house and recorded there. She’s the last vocal with the last words “texts me when you get home”—the most haunting, throaty, emotional vocal.
LTW: That’s so powerful, and it’s a meaningful way to push back against sexism historically in the music industry.
Brix: The music business still has a long way to go and there are so many glass ceilings. I personally don’t know how I have knuckles left because I’ve broken so many, and there are still many, many, many more to break, and the fight goes on. But we have come really far, and we have to take stock and celebrate. Sure, it’s not done yet, but is life ever done? Do we ever stop? Are we ever complete and is it ever good enough? No, the journey continues, so let’s just stop for one minute and say we’ve done good, we’ve come really far, and this is a measuring stick to show how far we’ve come.
LTW: That kind of celebration, albeit in connection with the serious imperative of the single, is also present in Reclaim These Streets.
Brix: It’s one of those songs that works really well for playing in your living room while you’re getting ready to go out, fist-pumping and dancing around and singing let’s reclaim these streets! It’s a call to action, and it’s something we can all join in on. Everybody loves to come together as a group with one consciousness. It feels good to be part of a team, to be part of a collective, to be part of a group of people putting good back into the world. My hope for the song is that as many people as humanly possible can hear it and connect with it, and that it reaches people not only superficially but to their core.
LTW: There’s a joy in it, but also an immense power.
Brix: Yeah. You know Deb Googe, who’s playing bass [on the single], is one of my absolute all-time favorite bass players, well . . . pretty much anything she touches reaches into my inner gullet and entrails and somehow hooks them into some psychedelic grinding mission from which I never recover. Working with her is just amazing, and Cassie wrote a really great song. I love the honesty and the vibe of it, and the bit of Riot grrrl-y spirit and girl gang power. It brings you back to the Shangri-Las or the Runaways, and the wonderful energy of girls having a great time and taking over the world.
And here, as a bonus feature, is Siobhan talking about her involvement and experiences…
The song was written by LOUD WOMEN’s founder, Cassie Fox, with a spoken word/rap section written and performed by Brix Smith. Instrumentation is provided by a female and non-binary supergroup with members of My Bloody Valentine, Salad and T-Bitch. Listen to Reclaim These Streets on all streaming platforms and contribute to Women’s Aid.
Words by Audrey J. Golden. You can follow Audrey on Twitter and Instagram, and you can check out her personal website to learn more about her writing and her archive of books, records, and ephemera.
Photo copyright held by Keira Anee.
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