Album Review: Johnny Flynn – Been Listening

By on Thursday, 3rd June 2010 at 12:00 pm

When I reviewed Johnny Flynn’s EP ‘Sweet William’ last November, I pondered the fact the London folkster’s dainty tunes lacked a significant audio wallop, regrettably risking getting lost amongst the in-your-face folk of Mumford and Sons or Noah and the Whale. So – I was interested to hear Johnny’s latest LP, ‘Been Listening’, to discover whether the pretty young fellow (does anyone else think he looks like a blonde Rpattz?) had stuck to his fragile folk roots.

Well, one of the initial things I noticed about ‘Been Listening’ is the fact Johnny seems to have embraced a bigger, more complex sound. More instrumentation swells amid the tracks. Opener, ‘Kentucky Pill’, kicks off with an unexpected groovy drum beat, which goes forth throughout the track, backing Johnny along with some hearty brass and a fairy-like mandolin. The intriguing ‘Churlish May’ continues to showcase brass, while the primitive percussion provides a tribal like layer to the song.

Track five, ‘Been Listening’ is when I truly began to realise this was turning into a great little record. Flynn officially plugs in at this point – does a Dylan, era 1965 Newport Folk Festival – and makes use of an electric guitar. This element is surprisingly beautiful, adding an almost psychedelic edge to ‘Been Listening’, a track which notably reminds me of something off Graham Coxon’s 2009 experimental folk album, ‘Spinning Top’. The electricity gets all the more interesting, however, with the incredible ‘Howl’, which kicks off with a super sexy blues riff, before proceeding to reveal an intriguingly sinister number, which sees Flynn get quite animated with his vocals.

The great thing, though, is that Johnny hasn’t completely evacuated from his previous sound, especially when the slower tracks – such as ‘Lost and Found’ and the piano led ‘Amazon Love’ – maintain that slighter, more delicate soundscape Flynn has built such a successful fan base on. ‘The Water’ is a particularly sweet highlight protruding vintage folk. An exquisite collaboration with lady of the moment, Laura Marling – the duo’s voices awash over one another beautifully, resulting in an almost perfect traditional tale.

Energy is successfully kept up between the ballads, especially with the plethora of finger picking and metallic strumming as heard in the excitable ‘Agnes’ and the waltzing ‘Sweet William Part 2’. This to me is evidence Flynn has grown, musically, since his last EP, which I particularly pointed out lacked any “lingering tenacity”, potentially inciting boredom in it’s audience. ‘Been Listening’, on the contrary, is a fantastic record. It remains both original and exciting from start to finish, running in all sorts of unexpected sweet and seedy directions – but all the while, still standing firm upon the base that is Johnny’s trademark sound of bygone era.

Been Listening is out on Monday (7th June 2010). You can pre-order it from Amazon, and download the opening track of the album below.

MP3: Johnny Flynn – Kentucky Pill

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