John and Jehn - Time for the Devil
In France they kiss on Main Street. Hell, who can blame ‘em? Damn Chunnel - ease of access strips away the magic somewhat. Still, France demands overt romanticising. No matter how you get there, once you get there, you’re there. A scuzzy tabac in the backstreets of the 19th arrondisement starts to gleam with history and possibility when you’ve seen Belmondo and Seberg running through those streets. France, giving shape and light to love’s young dreams since forever. Or maybe just indulging the hopes and reveries of idiotic dreamers from small English towns for far too long. I can’t say with absolute confidence. It was a long time ago and time does nothing but blur and fog.
John and Jehn would snort at such indulgence of course. This profoundly austere duo are back with a second album that, by dint of title alone, signposts an uncommon depth of focus. Time for the Devil. Haven’t we all? Like most mavericks, John and Jehn move on from a startling debut to something altogether more settled and composed; less noise, more poise. When John sings on ‘London Town’, “I love you when you fall asleep …” it reminds me of Godard’s young lovers, reminds me of Jean Seberg when she says “It’s sad to fall asleep. It seperates people …” It’s not the first time a passing phrase stirs a response. John describes the album as “a beautiful reflection on the Devil who's described as a gentleman who would never intentionally harm a human; not a symbol of evil or an enemy of God. He feeds our emotions and inspires in us a love of art and of love itself, and the emotions tempt us and this turns to desire and frustration in our souls. The sentiments inspired many of the lyrics on the album, a desire to explore the darker side of the psyche.” Count me in.
Time for the Devil is at once fully realised and artfully assembled. The vocals are that much braver second time around. John declaims like prime Billy McKenzie with a pinch of ‘Let’s Dance’ era Bowie. Jehn still harks after Nico with that spectral purring but on the likes of ‘And We Run’, which flips a nod as much in sound as it does in title to A Flock of Seagulls’ ‘I Ran’, she steps out and into full-throated mode. It’s as invigorating as it is startling. On ‘Oh My Love’ with its clipped arpeggio and skyward strings, she comes on like a young Siouxsie. “Unusual to see a girl like you”, she muses, “they usually keep them in a zoo.” ‘TFTD’ is shot through with this seam of indie noir, fairy tales from the darkest corners of the nursery. On the wonderfully silly ‘Vampire’ we get “My friend lives with a vampire/ I should set his house on fire.”
It’s not all so out there – fear not. Witness the timeless duet on ‘Love is Not Enough’, the duo nailing the call and response, bringing to mind those dark materials that fused The Jesus and Mary Chain with Hope Sandoval on ‘Sometimes Always’.
But this quietly accomplished album is so much more than a collection of oddball murmurings. It rocks, after a fashion, but it describes its triumphant arc with steely, capable precision. It manages its mix of lo-fi musing and widescreen pop with finesse that hints at ambition and development. Time for the Devil is a gripping, fascinating journey to somewhere we rarely go. It’s the kind of record that could envelop young lovers in its fevered embrace, send them off the rails, make them cast aside modern life and all its petty boundaries and open the door to god knows where. And if that ain’t rock ‘n roll, I don’t know what is. Á la prochaine …