Review: il y a longtemps, très bientôt by Lincoln Johns

The formula is simple: take a guitar, submerge it in codeine, and run it through a loop pedal. In the case of Chicago’s Lincoln Johns, the result is both unsettling and hypnotizing. LJ might have also spiked the codeine tank with a low dosage of THC, which makes the take-off easy and gives a soft landing on the other side. In other words, il y a lontemps, tre bientot is the perfect weekend lo-fi pill.

The title of the LP translates to ‘a long time ago, sometime soon,’ and it tells a wordless, interwoven, ambient, and descriptive story of age. If youth is the beginning and old age is the end, LJ guides us through the time between. Though the digital version of the record plays intelligibly enough, the LP can be played at 33 or 45 rpm, depending on the listener’s mood. One might play the former to initiate or compliment a more meditative space, though the narrative of the music itself becomes more apparent when the record is played at 45 rpm. However, the record is executed in such a way that, no matter the speed, the subtle changes in tone and repetition don’t distract from the overall compositional coherence.

Maybe this vocabulary is too complex for such an uncomplicated record. The best way to describe the actual sound is to consider it as floating at a distant point in deep, starless space, where the B-side guitar tracks from Sonic Youth and Yo La Tengo are crossing each other at a strange, nebulous junction. The loops and articulations aren’t always deft and polished, though this lends to the record’s more improvisational and experimental character. Some of the moments may seem non-sequitur, which might turn off listeners expecting something more formally structured, but we’re not talking about Steve Reich, here. There are occasional moments of discord, and long, droning phrases, but LJ never allows for the story to become unpleasant, save for the few seconds it takes to flip the record.

My favorite aspect of the record is that it is un-selfconscious. The modern experimental music scene is dominated by posturing and self-aggrandizement, and  il y a lontemps, tre bientot is both humble and and straightforward. Played at 45 rpm, the total record time is nearly 30 minutes on the nose. Played at 33 rpm, the play time is a little longer and offers an entirely different experience. It is almost as if LJ put two records in one. There are only five tracks on the record, but each one blends seamlessly into the next. There are moments that stand out from the others, but it is a disservice to isolate these particular sequences, which are themselves part of a greater story; one which ended a long time ago and will begin again sometime soon.

il y a lontemps, tre bientot by Lincoln Johns was released on 11/11/11 by 1980 Records. The LP costs $10 and includes a free digital download.

PS: Saturday, January 21, at 8:30 p.m., Lincoln Johns will be performing at Deagan Music (where the Anobium Release Party is being held on February 4!). LJ will be joined by trombonist Jeb Bishop, who has played with such notables as Ken Vandermark, Stereolab, Peter Brotzman, Flying Luttenbachers, etc. Fotosputnik and The Clams will also be performing.

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