Friday, January 14

Record Review: jj [Kills, Sincerely Yours]

by Sebastian Ruan

When listening to jj’s new mixtape, Kills, given out on Christmas eve via free download, I find myself in some sort of cosmic hell. After going over the ‘tape several times, I’m almost wondering if the duo, in fact, popped a handful of uppers and downers, while laying on a 620 thread-count sheet, in an ultraviolet reality in which, off in the distance, one can hear a faint radio and a static-y television set each taking turns spewing snippets of what could supposedly be awe-striking sentiments but what it really actually amounts to is a stoner’s skewed aural daydream. That being said, I dig it. jj initially caught my attention with their overly-inviting, dream pop/balearic version of Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop” which they’ve titled “Ecstasy.”

This style of pop is easily likable by a mainstream audience, with a #1 club hit mixed with an ambient texture coating the very recognizable riff in the original, and Elin Kastlander’s instantly-accessible, youthfully rich voice changing the words to Weezy’s track just slightly. In Kills, we get more of that songwriting style but with borrowed beats as the backdrop, while Kastlander takes snippets of 2010 pop lyrics as well as pop lyrics of the past decade and mashes it all together for one small and extremely entertaining display of talent.

The ‘tape starts off with one of Dre’s best tracks of the 2000s and ends with a mash-up of a handful of Kanye moments from last year, including an awkward cut from the Matt Lauer interview on the Today Show in November: “Can you be quiet for a second?” It seems jj is pretty up to date with the popular culture of 2010; Kills, in turn, is a quaint look back on a terrific year for music. And jj’s unique style of “mash-up,” which I actually wouldn’t consider a mash-up but more of a fun playlist that someone on a karaoke mic sings along to but at a slower pace, conveniently brings indie kids closer to hip hop and vice versa.

Sprinkled throughout the tracks are lyrics from radio-played songs, about “killing” and potentially committing other crimes. Some of the more apparent ones are as follows: “take your money / kill you”; “kill ‘em” that morphs into “killa’”; “Killed so many songs, you'd think I'd have a hitlist”; “I wanna die so I get high”. And although the message doesn’t seem so positive, the delivery is almost pristine. jj’s genius lies with how well they can slip in and out of songs throughout the mixtape; usually it’s done by allowing blurbs of other rap artists giving their spiel of the game. For instance, the song “Angels” begins with Lil Wayne concluding a passage of an interview he did in which he says “You get money, and you get crazy; I get crazy, and I get money. And the biggest difference between you and I is: you love me, and I hate you.” It sounds instantly threatening but jj uses it to move from a more club-ready beat to a more down-tempo one about the dead/angels.

Titling the ‘tape Kills is intriguing because we get songs of present and past, hyping up killing and death, and we get artists who’ve talked about violence and discouraged it, yet were killed in the prime of their lives like B.I.G. and Tupac who rap about killing but essentially oppose it; the ‘tape unfortunately doesn’t completely address these two opposing views, but allows for the listener to ascertain the gist of the matter and decide for his/herself.

But with all the serious notions aside, jj brings their A-game to the foreground, showing off their massive skills in the hip hop and dream pop genres with minimal effort -- throwing out lyrics and beats from M.I.A., Robyn, Rhianna, Jay-Z and Kanye, and turning instant dancefloor gems into instant bedroom classics. I for one was not all that thrilled with their originals on the albums prior to this mixtape but the blissful choas executed on Kills really makes jj one of the most inventive groups in the indie game.

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