Judah Johnson

Nov 7, 2001 at 12:00 am

Lately, it might seem that Detroit’s music scene divides easily into one of two categories: electronic music or garage rock. Such a picture, however, doesn’t account for sightings of DJs at the Godspeed You Black Emperor! show, or the indie rock contingent at Mouse on Mars last June. Truly, Detroit is an amalgam of tastes and styles — not all of which are exactly avant-garde. Judah Johnson is one band that proves that Detroit’s current renaissance stretches beyond its loudest and most obvious examples. Somewhere in this mixture, conventional and somber pop rock transforms into a uniquely beautiful and warm experience. At first, Judah Johnson sounds like Rufus Wainwright with a Bends-era Radiohead sensibility (“The Silent Treatment,” “Fortunecookie”). But Judah Johnson takes this trail to its bitter end where melodies wade in a downhearted abyss then slowly and steadily soar into the stratosphere, fading into quiet oblivion (“Tongue Kiss on Ecuador”).

Throughout, Judah Johnson maintains a successful balance between pensive restraint and dynamic intensity. Led by the powerfully soft, almost breathy voice of Dan Johnson; hypnotic guitars, drums, keyboards and bass play ornate counterpoint melodies to achieve a kinetic quality that is entirely rare. But Johnson’s vocals make the biggest impression. Like the aforementioned Wainwright and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, Johnson gets close to their variety of airy, on-key sustain and vibrato — albeit of a more subdued variety.

As an album, however, Judah Johnson’s self-titled debut EP lacks a few songs and moods that might leave its audience fully satisfied. Mainly held together by a couple of great songs, Judah Johnson points to better things to come. It’s the feeling that if there are these few songs that reach so deeply and grasp so thoroughly at the essence which they seek, surely we’re due for some great surprises from them in the not-so-distant future.

Judah Johnson performs Saturday, Nov. 10 with Aloha and the Nervous Set at the Halfway Inn in Ann Arbor.

E-mail Robert Gorell at [email protected].