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Jona Overground
On The Outside Aug Stone , September 2nd, 2014 12:43

On The Outside is a pleasant debut from this South East London pop duo. Produced by Alexander Mayor of Baxendale fame, On The Outside will be appreciated by those who like to dance to indie-pop. The arrangements largely feature acoustic guitars over lightly propulsive drums, though even on such songs where a beat is absent, the guitars ('Last Time I Saw You') or backing vocals ('Caught In A Line') supply the feel of a forward push. Anna's voice is like a more soulful Sarah Cracknell. And listening to the likes of 'Spin Cycle' and 'Let's Pretend', one would guess Jona Overground are Saint Etienne fans. At points the vocals also put one in mind of Melanie Williams' work on The Other Two's Super Highways. Musically there are echoes of Birdie, Girlfrendo, and the Swedish indiepop scene of the past decade and a half as well. But it's Burt Bacharach who is the obvious influence.

This is evident right from the beginning, as opener and first single 'If You Were Free' is spun out of Bacharach's songs for Dionne Warwick. A good thing, which will recur throughout the record. As will the nice major seventh and other suspensions in the guitar chords as well as the "ba-ba" backing vocals. A simple piano line post-first chorus catches the ear and brings a smile, its unconcern at doing so making it even more on the money. The organ-led 'Spin Cycle' puts one in mind of Saint Etienne's 'Split Screen' slowed way down, the minor chord ending the refrain adding an air of cool. Highlight 'Last Time I Saw You's wistful descending guitar figure supports a luxurious stretching out of the vocal line at verses end. Strings expand this melancholic atmosphere, more of a sigh than full-on gloom, describing the difficulties of ending a relationship when one still cares for the other person. And much like that piano part of two songs back, lovely momentary chimes punctuate the guitar melody at the end of the first chorus.

Jona Overground really know how to use vocal harmonies and b.v.s, and it's especially true on 'On The Outside' and 'Caught In A Line'. The title track is the most upbeat so far, an interesting groovy chord progression complete with the bass dropping out for 20 seconds halfway through and coming back in to great effect. 'Caught In A Line' lays at the other end of the spectrum, soft and swaying, voices float over suspended piano chords. 'Let's Pretend' sees Anna merging equal parts Cracknell and Warwick with a pinch of Dusty tossed in for good measure. 'My World, Your World' is the most danceable song on the album, though it takes some time to shift to another level. Whilst the tune is enjoyable enough, one senses an urge to rise beyond more quickly. A similar feeling in 'When Sorrows End'. While her breathy voice carries the tune, their knowledge of b.v.s could've been put to more effective use here, filling out the song more.

The final two songs give a good overview of the record as a whole. High point 'Time For Games' combines all the best Pop bits of what has come before – the busy melodic single note guitar parts and jangly chords, Saint Et/Bacharach vocal references, complementing b.v.’s that augment the tune - and sounds as if The Smiths had been signed to Sarah Records. A pure major key verse with female/male vocals and lovely tail end of the chorus. Closer 'Fallout' offers a somewhat mournful acoustic figure, watching late summer evenings slip into autumn. Its pre-chorus slightly echoes the title track but then the chorus elevates nicely with the warm surprise of a major key.