John FM – American Spirit EP (XL Recordings)

John FM – American Spirit EP (XL Recordings)

John FM intrigues with his eclectic and hypnotic style on an EP that examines the gulf between cathartic homemade demo and commercial soul. American Spirit contemplates the revolutionary energy, palpable in the USA over the last year, a year that has played out on television screens and in news articles all over the world. FM’s work though, uses lo fi recording techniques and warped ambient textures to evoke the real time experience, that instantaneously becomes unreliable memory; dislocating eyewitnesses from their own setting.

Essentializing American citizenship with that of passively watching the evening news or being powerless to preempt and influence events, FM encompasses an impressive sonic breadth. Moving through mobile phone recorded snippets, with audible weather, FM wittily riffs with the ominous thunder: “See the Goddesses are on my side”.

Confidently American Spirit is transmogrified and becomes a shimmering soulful apparition. This transition is neither clumsy nor subtle. It characterises the motion of internalisation; FM transcribes his feelings on a troubled year in a long history of trouble for black Americans.

In ‘Holster’ there are glimpses of jazz saxophone and live drums, wooden sticks on the rim of the snare are audible. Elsewhere, the EP is distant and the antithesis to live music. The electronic beats are muffled, distant and the vocals always affected with pitch shifters and auto tuners.

This sense of the live and organic wrestling with the synthetic and cold is expressed in the track ‘Interim’. Here there are only looped chants and a beat resonating up through the floorboards; merely pulsations of life without human vigour.

‘Lockjaw 7’ sees FM at his most vitriolic, allusions of drugs derailing relationships and finally offering the only mental escape from the memories. Escapism becomes easy but painful through “puffin on trees” and having to “take a pill”.

Final track ‘Forever’ is somewhere between a rally of hope and a swan song. Over clean piano, FM declares he wants to “enjoy a big steak like Tom and Jerry” but was “locked in jail”. The balladry potential is stifled by FM’s realism, jousts to the effervescent bubble of the American Dream. Finally the political demand for black American’s to live safely is absorbed into the fairy tale of Americana, as FM croons “I want to live forever”. 

FM hails from Detroit and is signed to the FXHE label in America. American Spirit, his first EP, was recorded over a five year period, and he has explained this lengthy process saying it took this long for the songs to make sense together. What is most intriguing about this auspice is his ambitious, nuanced approach to curating his own material because these songs are not mold from one stylistic print. A clue to understanding FM’s artistic approach comes from his desire to soundtrack400 years of oppression.” The transient jazz and soul over discordant synth lines and buried rhythms evokes a troubled American story, that is caught proudly remembering its rich history of black music, while still having to contend with the spectre of a racism that haunts it today with bloody footprints.

American Spirit can be purchased through Bandcamp

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