My first exposure to John Floreani‘s approach to songwriting was via the Trophy Eyes song “Chlorine”. I was on a train at the time, enjoying the song and its easy sing-along line of “I’m still breaaaathinnnggg” playing in my headphones… before the meaning of it landed with an “Oh shit” punch of severity. Someone had committed suicide, and these words were expressing what it was like to have been previously saved from drowning by that person. Oh. shit.
When later exploring Chemical Miracle there were similar punches; of wanting to die without hurting your mum too much, of bonding with cigarettes as a homecoming instead of being welcomed with open arms at the airport, of falling for a woman while knowing she would soon be hurt by him. Then, once I’d checked out the music of Little Brother, I took in “Cleveland, OH”‘s story of a self-described asshole trying hard to please the woman he fell for, and the subsequent fury in how a bad guy swooped in and won her over anyway. “Chloe” shared attempts for connection from a disconnected human, and “A Distance” expressed ruining anguish of the same. Each of these landed with an emotional thud. And not just for the moment of the listen in itself, but also as an offer of a palpable ‘place’ to return to when you wanted to know you weren’t the only one feeling certain feelings.
Even in songs casually introduced with comedic banter at John’s Little Brother gig at Cherry Bar (or Unify Gathering); of neighbouring dogs, of absent confidantes… every single one has delivered a heart-wavering impact. The man has somehow mastered the art of turning the shitty or confusing experiences of life into songs that persist on the psyche, simply from a will to share his stories with music and voice. I looked forward to more of heart-wavering experiences in sitting down to review sin.
“Oh Brother” makes for a slow and steady start for the album more than a grand one, offering up details of a stilted relationship between brothers. Growing wings at the pre-chorus, the crux of the song hits home with John’s cry of “I’ll give you the time of day while mum’s alive, but when she goes, I promise you so will I”. Gentle guitar blossoms into something stronger and emphatic as the song continues, and a mild sense of compassion exists despite desiring to end the connection. The song’s hand claps and ‘doo-doo-doo-doo’ are a contrastingly upbeat accompaniment to defined endings of “I don’t love you anymore”. I decided that the contrast may be telling of the relief one feels when letting go of a toxic relationship, regardless of who it is with.
“Don’t Wait Up” following on was far more electro-beated that I would have expected, especially for the subject matter of someone telling a lover that they self-medicate with alcohol to manage how they feel. A bouncing beat and chimes accompany John’s questions of seeking help for his emotions; wondering if he’s just an asshole more than it being any other kind of diagnosis, or if taking antidepressants would change who he was. Am I admitting too much if I say how relatable this is? The question of “Am I actually clinically unwell or is this just the person I am?” has certainly rattled around my head before.
Relatability aside, my first reaction to “Don’t Wait Up” was that it was… weird! The track is a gang vocal backed anthem for the damaged who drink to endure, which is poppy and synthy and features piano and light beats. As I’ve spent more time with “Don’t Wait Up”, the ‘weird’ song soon found its way in my head. Because goddamn, it’s catchy.
“Well I never knew what you saw in me, dear”
I could happily take a whole album full of John Floreani love songs like “Echoes”. In contrast to the track before it, this swelling orchestral number is dreamy and immersive, while still having an element of electro polish. I always see this song in my head every time I play it: In empty rooms, with not a scrap of furniture, the protagonist feels the presence of his lover and is thinking fondly of them and their future together. It’s a beautiful capture of the power of love, even with the simplicity of its one line chorus. The music video and its lens upon love makes it even more beautiful.
“Ready?” “I could do this shit all day!” screams John in the background of “Cocaine” and I’m already excited for this. With a repeated string melody akin to The Verve‘s “Bittersweet Symphony” (a classic), and an infectious beat, I could see this track being an instant favourite. Well it was for me, anyway.
A fat staticky bassline, the aforementioned strings, beat, and John’s easy monotone style of singing combine to make a sense of fullness at the chorus that I’m loving. I’m also digging the buzz of optimism that paints the massive track; a “they said we’d never make it, but look at us” rush of bliss. It’s like looking back, and seeing how high flying life is in this moment, and what great things are ahead. Gang vocals and a repeated “I can feel it coming up” just add to the feelgood vibe of “Cocaine”, as do the high, whispery, and echoey bridge. This isn’t a song I expected to find on sin, but it works and it’s undeniably great.
“Everything is coming up cocaine, sweet thing!”
By the time “Ugly Love” hits my ears, I think I’m accustomed to the weird factor, sonically speaking. As much as I’d like to think I came into my review relatively expectation-free, I think the sound contained in Trophy Eyes’ The American Dream album and John’s singles so far had given me a general expectation of what I’d find: Specifically, semi-serious anthems, a bit like “I Can Feel It Calling”. I was so very wrong!
“Ugly Love” is like a time warp back to the 80s with synth and hand-clapping that was so unexpected, it had me not paying attention to the lyrics at all at first. Once I oriented myself to this retro-tastic sound, I took in what was being shared lyrically. A John Hughes-esque movie scene could be played out to this, with movie goers taking in realistic clips of coupledom versus cheesy romantic fantasy. In “Ugly Love” we ‘see’ two lovers laying under the stars, talking about the sparkling things high above them, and how they just smile back down at them, not wanting anything.
As the song progresses, a glittering chorus shines in amongst further synthy tales of love and life between the two. It’s brilliantly summed up in the title and the lyric: “Our love’s an ugly love, but it’s real and it lasts a long long time”. It’s a feelgood and enjoyable listen, a snapshot of love created into a song instead of pictures. A weight of uncertainty exists though, that shows up in any relationship. “Ugly Love” is seeming to be another song intent on implanting in my brain. Clap your hands at this dreamy tune’s bridge.
“The tighter you hold it, the further it slips away”
Though I’d already heard the single “Before The Devil Knows I’m Dead”, its arrival in the album’s order made me smile, in just how much of a goddamn mixtape that sin was revealing itself to be, sound-wise. Good luck to anyone attempting to pin a genre to this.
Twangy and pensive, capturing a broken man seeking a way to heaven to be beside his lover forever, it’s yet another beautiful song. John is vocally unbridled on the track, matching an attempt for his requests to land upon the ears of a higher power. The female vocal joining in on this track, as well as tender melody at its ending, is just further icing on top of something brilliant. With no promises received in reply, the desire hangs in the silence left behind by the track.
“Repent” has a stomping beat and hums which take the hint of country twang of the previous track and expand upon it. Though I’m not intimately familiar with his discography, to me “Repent” has Johnny Cash‘s influence written all over it. I easily visualise a concerned lover beside a tortured soul through the early hours, and the song and its tale of violence and sleeplessness have me wonder about the story behind it. This track definitely isn’t as pop-sparkly as its album mates, and yet, it still feels very much at home on sin.
As does the piano delicateness of “I Don’t Want To Be Here Either”. Last tracks of album reviews are bittersweet, especially when I’m wanting to hold onto the experience and for it not to be over (like now). But this last song is one heck of a satisfying and beautiful close to sin, feeling well placed in the tracklisting. I’m no pianist, but there’s notes in amongst the lightness that capture an uneasiness. It’s a perfect fit for John’s descriptions of seeing your phone ring and not being sure if you want to have the conversation that would inevitably be coming with that particular person who’s calling.
“I Don’t Want To Be Here Either” is capture of someone thinking about their friend in a dark place (“You know I’m going to kill you if you kill yourself”). Despite not knowing how to help his friend, because of feeling similarly himself (“I guess we’re all one bad day away from a hospital bed”), John shares why he stays, as well as his observations of that person. It’s beautiful and moving and gentle at the same time as urgent. Strings flourish and add emotional weight to the experience.
“Don’t you know there’s nothing up there but stars?”
And it’s over? sin is definitely far far too short! What an album!
While sin offers a mixed bag in terms of sound/style of song – an impressive feat in its own right – each track definitely fits into the box of ‘real’. We’re shown family conflicts and assertion of boundaries, admissions of ugly ways of coping and concerns about the act of getting help, bassy cell-tingling rushes of success, starry synth flashes of love and life, quests for forgiveness, twanging contemplation of mistakes, and “We’re all a bit fucked up” kind of compassion set to piano.
Whether polished or pared back, the sense of realness is what shone through for me throughout sin. Each song is a moment of life – real life – whether moving house, seeing outcomes of long term effort, or seeing your phone ring and not wanting to pick it up. Never suffocatingly dark or heavy, the shadowy elements of being human are still present in sin, where honesty reveals choices and actions required for survival. Also part of life are the buoyantly brilliant moments and where it seems nothing could go wrong and everything is sparkling. sin paints these real life moments with differing sonic flavours, and does so in a way that will have listeners return affectionately to the songs, regardless of where they tend to land in terms of genre appreciation.
sin releases 7th June and can be pre-ordered HERE.
A triumph! John shows he is just fine in sounds other than rock/melodic hardcore. The order of tracks somehow makes this mixed bag of songs seem comfortably in place on the album.
Far too short! And though I enjoyed the differing musical styles across the album, I'd have appreciated more connection between the tracks, perhaps tying into the theme of sin.