JD Lion’s new record “Northern Lights”
Peeking out from behind a cloud of decadent melodicism, we discover a quaint little beat just aching for its emotional thrust to be appreciated by listeners in the surrealist’s dream that is “Majic,” one of the three songs to be found on JD Lion’s new record, Northern Lights. In Northern Lights, the Austin-based Lion is bringing the heat to ambient trip-hop like few others in the genre have in 2020, and despite its short running time (just under ten minutes in total length), this EP manages to grab the attention of anyone within earshot of its strut even in the most cursory of listening sessions.
Stylistically speaking, none of the three tracks on this record are easy to categorize using the standard genre terminology that critics like myself are tasked with employing when breaking down new music out of the underground and mainstream alike, but I’d stop short of saying that anything here feels, or sounds, scattered in the least. On the contrary, while “St. Catherine” and “Aurora” are both dynamically textured to the point of being both postmodern and relatively familiar to the longtime ambient consumer, they share a similar enough compositional formula that there’s never any debating who’s manning the controls behind the soundboard in either of these songs.
I love the arrangement of beats and synth melodies in “Aurora,” and in my initial sit-down with Northern Lights, it was instantly my favorite song here right out of the box. Conservative where it counts but not stingy with its reverberating string harmony, this track is perhaps the most limber and agile to behold on the EP, but it doesn’t overshadow the mathier material here at all – contrarily, there’s an aesthetical balance to this record that has been absent from most of the indie ambient output I’ve heard in 2020 (as unfortunate as that is to admit).
The percussion is a bit too streamlined for what I would have preferred in the master mix of “St. Catherine,” but to some degree, I think it makes sense why the track was produced with as limited a drum presence as it was. “St. Catherine” is definitely the most melodic song here, and though it could have used more of a kick in its slithering groove, it definitely ends up yielding one of the more surreal fever pitches of the EP when it reaches its conclusion (which, ironically, is also the point in which the record comes to a close as well).
For those who are curious about the best in ambient melody-making right now, JD Lion’s Northern Lights extended play is an awesome record worth checking out before the spring season expires. For four decades now, Austin has been producing some of the brightest players in all of indie music on the American side of the Atlantic, and while Lion has no shortage of competition both in his own scene and abroad, I think he is proving himself to be one of the region’s heavyweight composers with the release of this latest captivating collection of songs.