Johanna Warren – Lessons for Mutants

Posted: December 31, 2022 in MUSIC

Working with Iron and Wine and penning six solo albums in recent years, prolific artist Johanna Warren recently told Uncut Magazine as the pandemic hit she was faced with the choice, “up sticks from New York to Wales, to a place she had never been, to be with a person with whom she had spent all of two weeks. ‘Or move back in with my parents, and cry every day’.” Johanna Warren chose the former, packed up her bags and moved her life to a small mid-Wales town living in a homestead surrounded by sheep, foraging for herbs, and home-brewing, she divorced herself from the bustle, of the release and tour treadmill of the past three years.

Among the album’s of the year “Lessons for Mutants” is consumed with this change and metamorphosis, but also the imperfections of being human. It was recorded live to two inch tape capturing the performance of each song, taking you on a lyrical journey and shapeshifting through sounds from the scorched grunge of  ‘Piscean Lover’ that’s about holding onto the life raft as everything crumbles around you ” “It’s alright, we’re not ok/ We burn out not to fade away.” she sings, to the raw delicacy of the piano flecked ‘tooth for a tooth’, its touching atmosphere woven with brutal bars which could have been played in a smoke filled 1940’s club and bears more than a passing resemblance to Cat Power.

“Thirst for power, hunger for fame/ Always was a junkie for pain,” sings Johanna Warren on the psych folk strum of ‘I’d Be Orange’. This exploration of masochistic ambition and artistic martyrdom shifts effortlessly from shuffling into an epic chorus line, that captures all the contradictions of the male ego and turns it into a universal moment of self-discovery: hoisted shoulder high on a wave of 60’s harmonies, textures and Warren’s elastic vocal, sitting somewhere between Sharon Van Etten anthem and a love-inspired groove. It’s a superlative piece of songcraft.

“I think it’s a mistake to equate ‘perfection’ with flawlessness. To be human is to be perfectly flawed,” Johanna Warren observes while describing the joys of analogue recording. Her new LP “Lessons for Mutants” was tracked live with a band to two inch tape—a revelatory new way of working for Warren. “Tape forces you to commit to a performance, eccentricities and all. The little glitches and anomalies that we’re tempted to ‘correct’ are often what make a thing magical.”

Warren posses a voice of rich experience and clarity and song writing of depth on ‘Oaths’, she delivers an incredible, spine-tingling vocal performance as she cries to the heavens asking for the weight of sins to be lifted off our backs. As this outstanding torch ballad holds you transfixed in its revelry, pianos steeple and forge like the terrain of her home. It’s a stunning song.

Then there’s the spindling arpeggios and percussive shuffles of breakup ballad ‘Hi-Res‘ that scythes somewhere between the pointed lyricism of Big Thief and the bitter kiss-offs of Bob Dylan. “There’s this unspoken rule in modern music—modern life, really—that everything needs to be Auto-Tuned and ‘on the grid,’” Warren concludes. “This record is an act of resistance against that. There’s beauty and power in our aberrations, if we can embrace them.” 

Haunting closer ‘Involvus‘ is riven with the tenuousness of human frailty and failure, the piano bars housing Warren’s meditative clarity as she muses on  the ill-fated love story of Orpheus and Eurydice, fleeting, tragic and captivating, its a wonderful wave goodbye.

released October 7th, 2022

Music and lyrics by Johanna Warren

Johanna Warren – Guitars, vocals, piano, flute, organ, glockenspiel
Raven Bush – Violin
Mike Collins – Ooh la la las on Track 1
Chris St. Hilaire – Drums and bass on Tracks 6, 8, 9
Chris Jones – Drums, percussion, ooh la la las
Tom Sansbury – Bass, synth, ooh la la las

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