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Album Of The Week

Personal Bopper: Suddenly My Mind Is Blank By Jouska
Amanda Farah , February 16th, 2023 09:10

Crisp beats and intimate lyrics draw in the listener – but not too close – on the second album from Norway’s Jouska

Credit: Hans Olav Settem

After releasing a debut album as a duo, Jouska has returned as the solo project of Norwegian singer-songwriter-producer Marit Othilie Thorvik. Jouska’s second album, Suddenly My Mind is Blank, reflects Thorvik taking the spotlight for herself, creating intimate electronic music that shares a more personal perspective.

Thought it’s not uncommon for bands to make stylistic shifts, especially following debuts, Jouska’s more subdued second effort feels notable in comparison to the dance-oriented Everything is Good and Thorvik’s equally energetic 2022 collaboration with Dutch producer Kilder. Suddenly My Mind is Blank feels like an artist grabbing the reins for herself, unswayed by outside influences. With fewer beats per minute, she’s entered a world of hazy dream pop and gentle vocals, soft synths and few sharp edges.

The single ‘Death Sentence’ serves as an excellent calling card for the album. The bright, sweeping composition is cut through with crisp drumming (programmed or otherwise) while Thorvik pulls a bait and switch with her vocals. As she pushes herself to the heights of her range between the verses, she also cooly offers on the chorus: “You’ll be my death sentence.”

Thorvik makes herself comfortable with this vulnerability throughout the album, whether she is processing her relationships to former loves or old foes, her self-image or sense of identity, her insecurities or how she reconciles herself to any perceived shortcomings. But it’s an ironic balance that makes her songs so accessible; the combination of the intimacy of her lyrics with that slight step of remove to her vocal delivery make the album inviting but never too intense.

Introspection may be a dominant theme on the album, but Thorvik has plenty of self-awareness around her work. The spoken-word track ‘My Sagittarius Dream’ feeds the obsession with the zodiac as an obsession with the self, but also hilariously takes the piss out of the renewed fashion for taking astrology seriously. What starts as a template standard horoscope gradually progresses into absurdity against the backdrop of a tumbling scale played on a synthesizer. It’s an interlude that points to the intentional humour of ambiguous lyrics on the album, and also helpfully tips you off on how to correctly pronounce ‘Jouska’ (it’s yoo–skә)

Though Suddenly My Mind is Blank frequently has a vaguely free-form, psychedelic feel, Jouska allows more structured genres to creep into the songs. ‘Why’d You Leave Me in the Red?’ comes close to being a pop song, with catchy hooks that stick with you. It also has some of the sharpest lyrics, delivered in a loose, bouncing way that mirrors the light, chiming tone floating in the background. But it’s when the track drops down to just a simple bass line and Thorvik casually tosses out the line, “everything falls into place when it breaks” that she hits the hardest, even if she is at her quietest.

She plays with these forms again on ‘Fragrance’, a track that toys with indie pop and almost embraces the sadness of her lyrics in the tenor of her song. It’s also the song that best shows off the emotive layers of Thorvik’s vocal range. While she nonchalantly casts off lyrics about those personal quirks, failings and oddities of hers that she won’t allow herself to be bothered by, the chorus is pure dream pop. A whimsical video game loop lingers in the background as a connective tissue between this genuine emotional moment and the ease that she wants to project outwards.

Chronologically, ’Fragrance’ is the last really beautiful-in-spite-of-it-all song on the album. From that point forward, Thovik indulges more in the darker side of the pop and electronic spectra. It’s from the moment when things stop being light and airy that Thovik starts to experiment the most with her production, whether through samples or playing with texture.

A thudding bass line on ‘Blue Like the Sun’ holds together some of her most ambitious work, providing a driving through-line for the multi-layered samples of strings, trickling water, and something that sounds like the friction of rubber against rubber. It’s the album’s unlikely danceable moment that leans fully into the gloom she is otherwise so offhand about.

But even the gloom that isn’t verbally articulated can’t be dismissed out of hand. ‘Obstacles’ is a clear manifestation of negative feelings that go unspoken. With so much of the album emanating warmth and brightness, the pounding sub-bass feels like an assault on the listener. But it’s an assault like a paper cut – a sudden shock that throws you off but ultimately doesn’t seriously hurt you. Instead the track brings back waves of a certain meandering synth motif that is repeated across the album. The sound builds and crashes into mechanical static, only to ebb back out to the familiar patterns. It’s an instrumental mood swing playing with a gut-rattling timbre that could be an expression of discomfort or a taunt of the listener. But as harsh as she wants to be, it still only snags rather than cutting deep, a palatable way of coping with what she can’t say.

Thorvik isn’t very direct, either, about whether the root of the mood of separation and isolation that permeates the album stems from specific sources or past emotions that were never fully resolved. The departure of bandmate Hans Olav Settem was likely not a source of great drama, based on the fact that he contributes to producing and mixing Suddenly My Mind is Blank. Big feelings don’t always come from a single flashpoint, and not drilling down into every detail makes it easy to dismiss them as adolescent. But more than not, those big feelings are complicated in ways that we simply don’t allow ourselves to indulge in. Perhaps it’s the product of becoming a solo act that allows Jouska to be a vehicle for some of Thorvik’s big feelings – after all, a creative partner can cause you to hold back in the same way they can encourage you to experiment or explore. Thorvik’s voice and way of expressing herself are wholly hers and it’s easy to imagine how she will continue to refine and develop this style, whatever she chooses to express through it.