SJD: Elastic Wasteland (Round Trip Mars)

SJD: Make Love Ask Questions Later
SJD: Elastic Wasteland (Round Trip Mars)

Few New Zealand songwriters work with a sense of the mysterious in their lyrics, most are grounded in relationships (far too many going the you/I route) but SJD -- Sean James Donnelly -- not only reaches in that profitable direction but has the airy voice to pull it off.

So on the opener here when he sings of giving thanks to lizard kings above -- and marries that to ethereal electronics -- you know you are in for some kind of interesting trip. It is an enticing, strange and mysterious start to an album which weaves through equally fascinating imagery: "forgive the infidel . . . raise up the Jezebel" on the updraughts of melody in Make Love Ask Questions Later, and the imagined personal histories in Song of Baal.

SJD delivers these discrete songs on warm (or cold) beds of layered electronica which sometimes have a disconcerting emotional distance despite the lyrics (the cool and spacious Ultravox-like European mood of Empty World where the singer yearns for a lost love and offers an engaging Eno-minimalist chorus).

Others have an astral quality (the instrumental Hypnotised by Roads where it feels like Kraftwerk have gone the whole Back to the Future route and the DeLorean has achieved gentle lift-off).

On Lena he sounds like a world-weary Roy Orbison/Bono in a slowly decaying nightclub on a spacecraft piloted by David Lynch. For the fragile On the Driveway he is a sadly romantic observer in suburbia, and Song of Baal comes from a similar emotional place but goes for a more grand emotional and geographical sweep.

And SJD has the confidence to end the album on the stately and rather wistful Wolves ("we throw our stones to sea like little bits of never, night descends around us, but we'll never be wolves").

There is frequently an elegance and, yes, mystery in SJD's writing, delivery and sonic settings and that entices you back for repeat hearings to unpick all the details. And here, on an album recorded purely on electronic equipment there is a very human heart at work.

Only the lesser, very retro These Are The Names (think Blur's Boys and Girls recast into the techno-Eighties) here breaks the spell, but SJD's albums are generally slower growers than most so perhaps given time this one might reveal more charms.

SJD occupies a musical territory of his own making and this album, very different to its predecessors yet part of the same consciousness, is a late entry into the album of the year stakes. 

Share It

Your Comments

post a comment

More from this section   Music articles index

Sylvie Simmons: Sylvie (Light in the Attic/Southbound)

Sylvie Simmons: Sylvie (Light in the Attic/Southbound)

Now in her early 60s, Simmons is acclaimed as one of the finest rock writers who has been a longtime contributor to Mojo (insightful articles, interviews and her Americana column), writing... > Read more

Greg Brown: Freak Flag (YepRoc)

Greg Brown: Freak Flag (YepRoc)

When you get to your 24th album you probably aren't expecting a major breakthrough in terms of having a whole new audience find you. And nothing on this fine album sounds like either a departure,... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

PETER BROTZMANN INTERVIEWED (2014): Freedom isn't frightening

PETER BROTZMANN INTERVIEWED (2014): Freedom isn't frightening

German saxophonist Peter Brotzmann – on a short solo tour early next month – recalls the only other time he was here. In the Eighties he and bassist Peter Kowald offered their... > Read more

JAMAICA'S STUDIO ONE AND CLEMENT DODD: The focal point of reggae

JAMAICA'S STUDIO ONE AND CLEMENT DODD: The focal point of reggae

King Stitt is something to see all right. His glazed eyes appear to look in different directions. There are huge bags beneath them, his greying dreadlocks are tucked under a huge tea cosy, his wiry... > Read more