Geographic imaginaries of places we can't claim as our own are often little more than pastiches of misplaced nostalgia: East Coast city kids who say a record "sounds" like California might think they're talking about the state south of Oregon, but if they've never ventured West, their California landscape may look something like this: a photograph of Joan Didion smoking by the water; kissing long-eyelashed boys from Elk Grove; the bicycle bells in Pet Sounds; oranges--or is that Florida? It makes sense: take someone who's never seen the ocean, and I promise you an interest in water that's deep and true and dependent on vicarious expression.
I'm Having Fun Now, Jenny Lewis and Jonathan Rice's first collaboration as Jenny & Johnny, sounds like California. Non-natives trust Lewis because she is a California girl who presents us with a sound we want to believe follows around Californians like a cloud. We can't understand the socio-auditory exuberance of being in a place where music and sunshine follow you and where everything, according to the movies and everything--even the darkness--burns brighter, faster, longer, so we take her word for it.
The duo insists the effort is purely collaborative, nothing characteristically Jenny or Johnny about it. Rice is an accomplished producer and guitarist, and there are footnotes to Neil Young all over his work that give weight to the songs' centers. The songs on I'm Having Fun Now, however, carry the Jenny Lewis watermark. They sound frothy but feel heavy and there's a youthful wistfulness about them that stays with you long after the last notes are played. In "Big Wave," she sings about being young in the "new American way": bankrupt, depressed, unable to fully commit. It reads depressing but sounds euphoric--the closest thing to a clever, heartfelt anthem that isn't billing itself as an anthem at all. It's precisely that--the gravitas that is injected into effervescence that makes the song so lovely and makes California so golden.
On iTunes: Jenny & Johnny / "Big Wave"