What do you do when you were born in the wrong century? The new record by Neo-Romanticist Michael G. Johnson suggests that you just long, and long, and never stop.
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Reclinerland's second album, out this fall, is laced with even more of the arching; pleading melodies that pervaded his first record. Here, the listener is tossed back and forth from power pop angst, to tender picking, to sweet, ebullient harmony. Acoustic guitars are dipped in organ tones; electric guitars create harsh clouds of iron, and then soften into lofty strains of silk and ice. We hear the explorer in Johnson. He uses a palette splotched with a three-piece pop band, a string quartet, acoustic guitars, effect pedals, even tinkling glasses and broken strings. In Meet Me Later In the File Room, Johnson's voice aches along, accompanied by only a string quartet. The lyrics, like the music, are multi textured. Lines like "We've got to part ways, but Vegas remains here…" make gentle, plaintive social commentary while at the same time invoking the desire for things to be different between the song's protagonist and the object of his longing.
Johnson came out of the late Eighties alternative music scene, listening to bands like R.E.M., the Smiths, the Red House Painters, and British pop. For over three years he played clubs in the San Francisco bay area, until he co-founded the American Girls, and moved to the Pacific Northwest. After moderate success, including a record deal with the Los Angeles based Manifesto Records; Johnson parted ways with the group, and went out on his own.
Three weeks after leaving the band in summer 1997, he began work on his first album. It was at this time that Johnson discovered the independent music of the Pacific Northwest. He became one of the forerunners of a sleepy, emotionally addicted band of songwriters on the Hush record label. The benchmark Less Compilation was dubbed the "quintessential Portland album." With the release of his debut album in fall 1998, on the Expanding Brooklyn label, Johnson's sound evolved into a rich, quiet acoustic tapestry. Songs like Symphony No. 1 display his penchant for pulling intertwining melodies out of a single fingerpicking pattern. In 1981, and Littlestar, we hear a voice almost straining through tight melodies over fierce strumming. There is even a hint of Johnson's orchestration abilities, as the string trio and the guitar fight through the accompaniment to Venezuela (Hating Trains).
Since the release of his first album, Reclinerland has appeared in clubs such as Schuba's in Chicago, the 12 Bar Club and the Garage in London, CB's Gallery in New York City, and the Aladdin Theater in Portland, OR. His ability to draw people together has led him to work with many different musicians, in many different studios. His love of classical idioms has led him to compose music for film, and to write songs for other artists. He now resides in New York City, but if you were to see him one night pouring over orchestral scores, or hunching over his guitar, you'd think he resided back in the nineteenth century, where he would have felt much more at home.
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