Review Summary: Finally, at peace.
Portland's prodigal singer songwriter Johanna Warren has spent many years in the shadows. Singing in the back for artists like Iron & Wine and Julie Byrne, you wouldn't notice her little glowing presence unless you had some kind of super power that allowed you to isolate her ushering words from the imposing figure of the artists that occupied the spotlight. If you would though, you would find yourself crazed, haunted, lured to the blissful tone of her balsamic voice which she has been documenting since the conception of Fates
, her first solo album released in 2013. Her guitar skills were rough on that one, her voice radiant and slightly insecure, but it was the healing nature of the person behind the music what carried the album with effortless dexterity.
followed two years later to wider acclaim, showcasing a singer that had growth enormously, not only as a performer but also as lyricist. Warren was never satisfied with boring the audience with the banalities of her last break-up, instead, you would find her tearing apart the scars of the universe, trying to breach to the other side in search for the answers she needed to justify her own existence. Her voice appeared then stripped off effects, naked, vulnerable, and carrying a spirituality that transcended human emotions in a constant quest for something greater than herself.
The duality of Gemini
, her third album released two years ago and its reflection in the mirror, Gemini II
constituted an important step up for her. Struggling with bipolar disorder, Warren found in energy healing a way to sail through the storm, embracing her intense connection with Nature and having the moon as the dim light in the darkness that would unify both sides of her conflicted self into a single powerful entity. When putting both covers together, you realize there is a divine figure worshipped by, what I presume, two versions of Warren that represent the dichotomy of her character. In Gemini II
the once pensive and static figure has become a horned demon that seems to be either exorcized from Warren's body or unleashed to devour what is left of her. After listening to Gemini II
, I am inclined to think that this is not a story of defeat but of victory . This is the end of her inner battle, a feat that she has accomplished channeling her fears through her music and spreading its calming essence to anyone willing to take it home
In a way, Gemini II
goes back to her roots, maybe as a way to consider things from the beginning, but it adds the experience of her last three releases, which translates into a rich and variated singer songwriter album with traces of new age and traditional folk. The album opener, "Hopelessness Has Done Nothing For Me", feels instantly like one of her first tunes. A simple guitar and a beautiful vocal melody that manage to say so much with so little give way to a bold drum beat, a solemn piano and a plethora of tiny sounds."Now you've got a stranger in your home / Might as well sit down and try to get to know him"
she sings in the final line of the song, like she has finally come to terms with the fact that she can't keep fighting anymore, not with herself, and even less against the prospect of opening her heart to someone else. It is through this realization that Gemini II
initiates Warren's healing process which continues with the ghostly "Say You Do". Here the singer's grounded lyrics outline the abusive force that has been imprisoning her and causing her bright side to wither away. Exhausted, she dreams in "Here to Tell", a beautiful and hazy tune too comfortable to come out of bed to face reality. "Cause or Effect" could perfectly fit in Sufjan Steven's high-praised Carrie & Lowell
, while the vertigo of "Inreverse" results in one of her best vocal performances up to date.
The album's waning phase starts with the stellar "Boundaries", maybe the closest moment to the likes of last year's rising star Phoebe Bridgers and the song in which Warren's lyricism hit with upmost strength. "I can't seem to shake what you said / And I don't feel safe in my head
" she sings trapped and terrified in the confines of her own mind, to finally rise up to the lines "Mother forgive me, I'm lost / But I'll find my way home whatever the cost"
in what it feels like Warren's resolution to find a way out of her torment. "Cleansed by Fire" drones and recreates in the resulting peaceful solace while the whimsical "Mine to Take" and the contemplative "Was it Heaven" close the album with newfound serenity. "With you I was so infinitely lost"
is the final line of Gemini II
and the conclusive wisdom acquired through this ritual of passage. Johanna Warren may be a name never heard before by many, kept in the shade by her own crippling fears, but something tells me that the time has come for that once little light to become the blinding sun.