Acquiring the title of “National Treasure” can be a double-edged sword. A bit like a Lifetime Achievement Award, it implies that the best is in the past. But when it is offered with the respect and affection of BBC veteran music presenter Tom Robinson, it’s an accolade any musician would be proud to accept.
Enter Johnno Casson, aka Snippet and the aforementioned National Treasure of the indie music world. Yes, he has been making music for many years, whether as singer and main songwriter for trip-hop pioneers Deep Joy, working with the likes of Andrew Weatherall (Primal Scream), James Lavelle (Mo’ Wax/UNKLE) and Adrian Sherwood (On-U-Sound), or creating his own solo projects – releasing five albums & six EPs. He keeps busy. Johnno gets around too – attracting a world wide following and picking up support from the likes of Radio 1, BBC 6 Music, Amazing and an array of wonderful national and international radio stations. If that’s not enough, his song “We Luv The Sunshine” features on the movie soundtrack of The Space Between. And he pays it forward, as part of the supportive team at Fresh On The Net and as producer of Colchester’s own community music project, the Warm And Toasty Club.
National Treasure? I should say so. But not one to rest on his laurels.
On 7 April, Johnno releases his biggest, boldest and most thought provoking album to date, Future Melancholy Pop Music.
Opening with a one and a half minute dream track “Hold No Shame”, Johnno sets the direction of travel for the album into an honest exploration of what has been and what is intended.
There’s something deliciously British about Johnno’s world. Exposure to the quintessential class system isn’t necessary to appreciate the sentiment behind “Middle Class Ways”. We’ve all bumped up against arrogance, but there is a gentleness to Johnno’s tone and tune that turns protest into wisdom. The subject of class turns up again in “Follow”, this time opening with aching emotion before offering another slice of advice “Follow your heart, don’t waste your time on nobodies”. “Ain’t Got Time For” continues the theme, listing time-wasting tabloid fodder in one side of a conversation heard in pubs throughout the land “I ain’t got time for The Government/Simon Cowell/Eamonn blinking Holmes”. There’s a counterpoint though, to “Shut down the haters..with music on the radio”. A vision of a kinder place, with “so much time for you”.
The signature single from the album, “Bad Man” is a chirpy tease of a track that reaches out to men of a certain age everywhere. “I’ve got so much to give, and I’m good for my years”…”I do the work like nobody else can”. Whatever your age or gender, this will have you singing along. If, after that, there’s any doubt that it’s OK to be just who you are, “Being Yourself” reinforces the sentiment, with an upbeat Squeeze-meets-Lily Allen combo.
As anticipated by the album title, there is melancholy in the music. “Marvellous Life” offers choices, some good, some not so clever, some slightly sinister. Set against a wistful folk-pop arrangement, the option to dance, be happy and get a cat becomes surprisingly…marvellous. Turning melancholy up a notch or two, “F’All” is “Ain’t Got Time For” turned inside on itself, souls bared and options reduced. Drums beat a slow march to nowhere. Take a breath, then immerse into “Mental Health”, or rather our fear of the subject. Complex and engaging the music may be, but the lyrics pull no punches.
Emotion saturation? Not yet. “We Love You” hints at loss, perhaps the expected loss of a parent or an old friend who “always made it special”, while “Some Kid” exposes the tragic consequences of street violence “Some kid he died, it was avoidable”.
Not all songs are sad, and not all songs need lyrics, especially when they display the Madness-styled jazz-infused sax of “Dumbfounded”. Is the title ironic? That’s Britishness for you. It’s never far from the surface, with images of English childhood bubbling through “I Remember” and trips into town for a “cup of tea and a piece of cake” in the cheeky love song “In Your Arms”.
The unfulfilled bucket list of “I Leave It To You” draws the album to a close with a glimpse of simple, warm, domestic life shared behind front doors everywhere. Johnno’s vocals, cosy and comforting, balance melancholy with nostalgia, providing resolution and a sense that love makes everything OK, after all.
With Future Melancholy Pop Music, Johnno offers an album that is thought-provoking and intimate. Speaking to issues and emotions that we British generally prefer to restrain behind a stiff upper lip, he opens a window upon elements of life and society that, left unaired, harbour pain. This is a brave collection, delivered through compelling vocals and wrapped in accomplished musicianship.
Future Melancholy Pop Music is released on the 7 April 2017 by Folkwit Records. Order your copy here, and make your way to the launch gig at Colchester’s The Minories at 2pm on Sunday 9 April – tickets here.
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