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EVERYTHING IS GOOD Matthew Horton , October 1st, 2020 07:40

Jouska's 'bedroom r&b' seek beauty in sadness with a suite of otherworldly pop hits, finds Matthew Horton

That’s all we want to hear, isn’t it? Everything is good. Reassuring. And that’s fine, at least until you hear how Jouska try to back it up, when a sliver of doubt seeps in. Everything Is Good is anxiety as art.

The Oslo duo, Marit Othilie Thorvik and Hans Olav Settem, have been releasing catchy, sometimes slippery, glitch-pop for the last four years, but here’s their first full-length. They bill it as ‘bedroom R&B’, a stretch (if we’re being literal) when its rhythms are all over the shop – still, they certainly got the blues. “All the things I had to lose / They're already lost,” murmurs guest singer doglover95 on the warped, narcotised ‘Pink’, nicely capturing the mood. “Everything’s good,” is Thorvik’s less than convincing reply, now almost a sarky motto. You’ve got to be glad to be glum if you’re spending time with Jouska, but there are pretty and plentiful rewards.

On the opening title track, they conjure a shimmering dreamscape of arpeggiated synths around Thorvik’s fractured whispers before slow beats give way to an aggressive clatter and finally a fluid, bassy bop. There’s a touch of One Dove, the dubby Glaswegian nearly-weres, in Thorvik’s breathiness and the ambient textures clashing with dancier dynamics, a thread that runs right through to the closing ‘† shadow †’ where synths rise and fall as Thorvik sobs quietly, “I really don’t mind”.

When she rises above a whisper, Thorvik coos like compatriot Annie on ‘Because I Really Don’t Mind’ (Jouska like their repeated phrases) and ‘Born In Cash’, over equally familiar-feeling electro-pop. These are otherworldly hits, the former resonant of Sky Ferreira’s ‘Everything Is Embarrassing’ on an adrenaline boost, the latter a robotic groove occupying that famed crossover territory between Depeche Mode and Detroit techno. The lyrics are rooted in dejection and disappointment, masked by jittery, glowing tunes.

Later, Jouska find elements of the R&B they aim for in the slow jam of ‘Bring You Back’ – almost traditional in its sweaty, sinuous sway – and the seductive nu soul of ‘Lemon Twigs’, but they’re better when they’re stranger, weaving doo-wop around the queasy fairground organ of ‘Beat Up Your Baby’. “This is too ugly to feel / Too ugly to heal,” Thorvik sings. Maybe so – there are demons throughout – but there’s beauty in the sadness.