Portland singer/songwriter Johanna Warren oozes raw talent with her latest album nūmūn. Nūmūn shows off Warren’s undeniable musical talent by highlighting her soaring sopranic voice, thought-provoking lyrics and eerie psychedelic folk instrumentation. Picking up Warren’s latest album, nūmūn, will definitely get you intrigued and wanting more.
Warren’s voice is both a comforting storyteller and a soaring songbird. Beginning with the first song, “Black Moss,” Warren shows off both of these vocal qualities. In the song’s’ verses, Warren’s voice plays the role of the meek storyteller with hearty undertones that distinguishes her voice from others. Then, once she reaches the song’s bridge and chorus, her voice seamlessly soars to high notes that many of us could only dream of reaching. The only comparable voice that I can think of is that of Jesca Hoop, whose early albums similarly had a psychedelic folk sound. “Black Moss” also nonchalantly covers the topic of death in the lyrics with the repeated line, “but soon black moss will cover over my dead body.”
Her thought-provoking lyrics mainly center around humanity and spirituality. Covering the topic of human nature, “The Wheel” seems to be a conversation with pain, as her opening question is, “O pain, why are you here again?” In “Noise,” Warren repeatedly sings that “God has plans but I’ve got mine,” proving to be the perfect example of how Warren subtly covers both God and human nature in her lyrics. “Noise” also shows how Warren can casually throw unique twists and turns into her interesting instrumentation.
The instrumentation on nūmūn is mainly made up of the acoustic guitar, but here and there other instruments and sounds are introduced in a way that best fits with the genre of psychedelic folk. “Noise” has appearances from laughing girls, rustling wind, and what sounds like the scraping together of silverware. “The Wheel” seems to include rustling pieces of metal repeating throughout the song.
“Apogee” is a non-vocal interlude occurring at the middle of the album. It begins in a sort of trance and reintroduces the scraping of silverware and rustling metal, as well as another which seems like glasses gently colliding. The off-kilter instrumentation of “Apogee” comes together to make a very eerie interlude. It’s a perfect fit to highlight the eerie undertones found throughout the rest of the album, through the weird sounds, ghostly harmonization, and even certain ways Warren plays her guitar. This “eerie” quality found in her instrumentation is a sure sign of psychedelic folk influence.
Johanna Warren clearly is both a talented vocalist and musician, as shown through her latest album nūmūn. If you have not yet encountered the euphoric experience of a psychedelic folk album, then look no further. Warren’s unique instrumentation, earthy lyrics, and gorgeous voice will certainly entrance you. —Krisann Janowitz
“Grainy” – Cotton Claw. You know that scene in action movies where the spy is in a club, and then he spots his guy, and then a noir-ish chase scene through a dark, glamourously-lit urban landscape erupts without the music changing all that much? Plug and play.
“Rooftops” – Sick of Sarah. Is it a dis to say someone sounds like Paramore these days? If not, the confident vocals and tight dance-rock beats makes this tune sound like an enthusiastic Paramore club remix. If yes, this sounds nothing like that at all.
“Broken Angels” – Jade the Moon. Other than the wub in the bass, this is a vocals-heavy, female-fronted mid-tempo club banger from the ’90s. (That’s totally great with me.)
“Raincoats” – Maribou State. Got me wondering: what’s the politically correct term for Tribal House these days?
“Enchanteresse” – Scattered Clouds. Dissonant, disorienting flashes of guitar lightning crash on an ominous plateau of baritone speak/sing vocals and plodding bass. For fans of apocalyptic post-rock.
“State of Low” – Cajsa Siik. I know this sort of delicate, feminine indie-electro-pop existed before I heard Frou Frou on the Garden State soundtrack, but I can’t escape thinking about Imogen Heap’s vocals whenever something this light (yet dark, always dusk where they are) appears.
“Lost” – Zohara. An unusual fusion of pop chanteuse vocals, dissonant orchestration, and pleasant piano produces an enigmatic, interesting track.
“Forest Fires” – Axel Flóvent. If you’re the sort of person who longs for winter as soon as it gets warm, this acoustic- and piano-laden track will give you all the snowy-cabin-folk chills you need to get you through the hard months.
“True Colors” – Johanna Warren. Surprisingly technical guitar playing gets matched with calming vocals and very serious arrangements of piano and flute. This results in a tune that is both calming and unsettling.
1. “The Last Generation of Love” – The Holy Gasp. Hugely theatrical vocals, driving conga drums, stabbing horns, and an overall feel of wild desperation permeate this wild track. It feels like a lost ’60s bossa nova played at triple the speed with an apocalyptic poet dropping remix bars over it. In short, this one’s different.
2. “Hot Coffee” – Greg Chiapello. Somewhere between Brill Building formal pop songcraft and Beatles-esque arrangement affectations sits this perky, smile-inducing, timeless tune.
3. “Wake Up and Fight” – Gaston Light. If you’re looking for a widescreen folk creed, this tune builds from a single bass note to a fist-raised anthem. Gaston Light attempts to channel Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Conor Oberst, and more.
4. “Evil Dreams” – Elstow. ’50s girl-pop mixed with some 9 p.m. vibes and reverb = solid track.
6. “All This Wandering Around” – Ivan and Alyosha. Ivan and Alyosha are back with a chipper indie-rock song that will get you tapping your toes.
7. “Less Traveled” – Johanna Warren. A lilting soprano supported by low flutes and burbling fingerpicking developed into technical guitarwork that lifted my eyebrows. There’s a lot of talent going on here. I love what Team Love is up to this year.
8. “Folding” – Martin Callingham. Callingham has crafted the sort of tune that’s almost inarguable: it floats lightly on your consciousness, gently working its way through to the end of the tune. If Joshua Radin had gotten a few more instruments involved without going rock…
9. “Wild at Heart” – Trans Van Santos. Does Calexico have a patent of the sound of the high desert? Mark Matos hopes not, as the baritone-voiced songwriter of Trans Van Santos has a way with the guitar delays and reverbs of that venerable sound. Perfect for your jaunts to or from Flagstaff.
10. “Don’t You Honey Me” – Timothy Jaromir. Here’s a bluesy country duet with excellent come-hither female vocals, muted horns, and romance on the mind.
Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.