Back in 2010, Stereogum named Danielle “Danz” Johnson and her project Computer Magic as a band to watch. She was unlike other producers, bedroom-pop artists, and songwriters, as her music had purpose. Her emotions were not the drivers of her music, but she found inspiration instead in literature, film, and art. From Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? to the strong female characters in Sofia Coppolla films, the then 21-year old producer and songwriter was changing the electronic game.
Nearly eight years later, Johnson continues to forge her own path forward. North American audiences have been slow to embrace her mi-fi, sci-fi influenced style, but she’s a star in Japan. Her music perfectly fits in the small, dimly-lit, and intimate clubs and bars of Tokyo and Osaka. In addition, her vivid imagination and fantasy-like tales complement the aspirations of many of Japan’s future-oriented youth. The country has earned the distinction of being the Land of the Rising Robots for a reason. Johnson’s star, however, is slowly brightening in niche parts of the US and Canada, as younger audiences begin to see themselves in her music. Her second North American album (fifth overall as she’s released three exclusively in Japan) could see her fulfill Stereogum’s prognostication.
Fittingly titled DANZ, the record is Johnson’s most introspective to date and a wildly imaginative and brilliant piece of art. The sci-fi and fantasy atmosphere remains, but this time she puts herself front-and-centre of the LP. In other words, DANZ is a personal and introspective record created around the concept of The Wizard of Oz set some 100 to 200 years in the future. Johnson is Dorothy, who is half-human, half-robot (or a cyborg) and searching for meaning in her life. L. Frank Baum probably never imagined the land of Oz being set in a galaxy faraway, yet Johnson brilliantly articulates this new story.
The dark and hypnotic “Amnesia” opens the album. The deep bass and percolating beats create an environment that feels like we’re flying between the immense valleys of space, but we’re actually falling inside Johnson’s mind. Uncertain and anxiety ring through her thoughts, as she mentions, “I could be a danger to myself”. Johnson does not land in Kansas, but finds her footing in the serene, electro-pop ballad “Nebraskaland”. The “Cornhusker State” is like Oz, where peace and tranquility can be found in its simplicity. There is, though, a yearning for home.
Johnson then returns to a familiar inspiration – i.e., Philip K. Dick – on the next two songs, which are the album’s highlights. On “Ordinary Life (Message From An A.I. Girlfriend)”, Johnson brightens up the room with a dazzling and groovy alt-electro-pop approach. It’s a song that will put smiles on people’s faces with its radiant melody and the dreaminess of Johnson’s voice. Despite the feel-good vibes of the song, Johnson’s words, “I don’t want an ordinary life“, hint at something darker. As the synths weave a futuristic soundscape on the dark yet engrossing “Delirium (Don’t Follow The Sheep)”, Johnson further expands on the idea of walls, limitations, and conformity. While some may follow a “president who has lost his mind”, she will not conform to their ways. It’s a clever track and arguably Johnson’s most ambitious and politically-charged output to date.
“Delirium” seamlessly weaves into the instrumental “Teegra”, which provides a moment of reflection of what is happening around and within us. A CHRVCHES-vibe percolates through the dazzling and intimate “Perfect Game”, which Johnson describes how she she has found her place in someone and somewhere. Or has she found her answers in “Data”? As a ’70s film-noir vibe fills the air, Johnson tells us to “open up our minds” and “feel something”. In other words, she advises us to not limit our options for we may miss out on beautiful and intimate escapades like “Space and Time / Pale Blue Dot”. Low-key and sensual, the song is a like the most enchanting dream slowly blooming in our minds.
The album comes to an end with two equally dazzling songs, beginning first with the elegant “Drift Away”. Despite its stunning nature, Johnson again questions what is real and is fiction and whether she will see what and who she wants when she returns home. She provides a partial answer on the delirious “Clouds”. Optimism rings throughout the groovy arrangements and Johnson’s voice. Is she, however, alive or has she found her final resting place in the skies? Wherever she has landed, whether it is Kansas, Nebraska, New York, or Tokyo, she is finally home. Hopefully, every corner of the world will one day be like home, as people embrace the imagination and talents of an artist that still remains one to watch.
DANZ, is out not via her own Channel 9 Records. Orders are available on her website (see below).
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