Jonah Parzen-Johnson‘s Imagine Giving Up is a big leap for JPJ. His previous work has been complex, adventurous, unique work combining solo baritone guitar work with textured synths. It falls somewhere between avant-garde jazz and ambient work, but it’s atypical for both. Imagine Giving Up is no less complex, adventurous, or unique, but some of the gnarly, abrasive edges have been replaced with a refined, refreshing sense of underlying rhythm.
As a result, the enthusiastic “Everything is Everything Else” is almost dance music (almost), and thus very ready for electro remixes, thank you very much. The internal motion of the rattling synth and its byproduct (an almost-accidental lo-fi beat) create a solid backdrop for some really great melodies from JPJ’s sax. It’s a highlight of his oeuvre. Closer “Stand Still” touches down in the dance space as well, anchored by a loping, looping arpeggiator (and thrown a bit off-kilter by atypical beat patterns, but hey, like I said, it touches down in dance territory).
That’s not to say that all of Imagine Giving Up is hitting the dance floor. You can have underlying rhythm without it being four-on-the-floor techno. “The Smile When You Fall” feels like an inverted complement to “Everything is Everything Else,” moving along as a solo saxophone rumination that toys with the same sorts of rhythms as “Everything” but never fulfills their dancy qualities; it instead evolves/devolves into an intentionally glitchy mess. “Up” is long on drawn-out tones and subtle synth plodding, opening up more atmospheric, jazzy, experimental, sonically textured approaches (instead of the “let’s just play some riffs, yeah?” approach of “Everything is Everything Else”). Opener “Find the Feeling” is like the soundtrack to a creepy-for-its-time NES game (anyone else remember Maniac Mansion?): full of eerie noises and haunting sax noises that are kept moving along by the tick-tick-ticking of the synth beat. I suppose you could dance to it, if you’re interested in this sort of vibe.
In short, Jonah Parzen-Johnson continues to deliver incredibly unique, astonishingly complex, emotionally stirring music with just a baritone saxophone, synths, and beats. It’s remarkable. Highly recommended.