Review Summary: Rise like a phoenix and burn it all away.
It’s been around seven years since Johanna Warren founded Spirit House Records with long time friend and sound engineer Bella Blasko to provide a platform for female artists to express and promote their art. It was under this label that Warren released the majority of her recordings. From her extraordinary debut, a little folk jewel titled Fates
, to her moon scented sophomore nūmūn
, and lastly the two mirrored releases aptly named Gemini I & II
. Following the release of these two last albums and after a total period of 5 years of touring, writing, and recording, change finally has caught up with the Portland singer songwriter.
Warren’s foolproof spirituality had kept her afloat through the emotional storm that prompted the two different parts of Gemini
, but it was breached, and somehow she didn’t feel safe anymore. As an artist, and every content creator will probably feel identified with this at some point, she felt the need of crafting her art from a different source than herself. In order to do so, she thought of creating a character to role play the new music that was already flooding her heart. It was then when she realised that this character already existed, and she was called Johanna.
Up to Chaotic Good
, Warren pictures her career like building a big and tall funeral pyre, from when she rises now as a phoenix with newfound strength and purpose. In doing so, her bridge with spirituality has been partly burnt, along with her connection to Spirit House records, and her long term tandem work with Bella Blasko. Chaotic Good
is Warren’s fifth release and the first where she had control on most of the album’s recording process. Written, performed and captured in different places, Warren’s latest release is a collection of memories of the last 5 years, pieces of the magical mirror that once was Gemini
, which lies now shattered, reflecting the diversity of her craft without the constraints of any kind of loyalty to her past.
As such, Chaotic Good
shows an entirely different side of Warren. In a few words, she sounds more grounded, experienced and confident than ever. As is tradition, “Rose Potion” is a strong opener and one of the highlights of the album. Warren tip toes with her voice over one of her trustful guitar arpeggios all the way through a playful chorus. This is Warren under a different light in only a matter of seconds. “Part of it” is driven by a strong drum beat, courtesy of long time conspirator Joe Bertini, and it’s also a rarity in her collection of acoustic guitar driven folk tunes. “Only the Truth” sits her on the piano with the distant cry of a post rock guitar melody and Warren showcasing how much her singing has improved with every release. “Bed of Nails” reminisces the old magic of Warren’s past releases, while “Twisted” does the complete opposite. It’s in this last track where fans of her former works will feel somehow defied by the (quite unexpected) lung-melting screams at the top of her range that helm this 90s grunge infectious track.
After this somewhat overwhelming peak of fury, Warren sails the second half of the album still with changing weather but through less turbulent waters. “A Hole in the Wall” is only her and her guitar, while “Faking Amnesia” delves surprisingly into progressive rock with astonishing results. The short and sweet “Every Death” speaks once more of the magical world she created through her Gemini
phase, and I will restrain to quote any lyrics because I would have to include the whole thing here. That said, it features Warren’s writing at her best. “Thru Yr Teeth” is a very stark and classic folk tune, which only serves to highlight the brilliance of “Bones of Abandoned Futures” as a closing track. Warren sitting on her piano once more accompanied by a flute and nothing else, fills the room with her voice, and thus Chaotic Good
comes to a beautifully soothing end.
The need to evolve is in every artist’s nature. It’s both a blessing and a curse, as the joy and sense of fulfilment your craft will cast upon others will never be felt the same way by yourself. Furthermore, it’ll be replaced by doubt and insecurity. Johanna realised this, and used it to her advantage. With Chaotic Good
she has found a vessel to move forward, to new pastures, guided by different stars. It’s no surprise there are a total of eleven people, including herself, credited as engineers and that this fifth release comes through Philadelphia’s Wax Nine and Carpark Records instead of her former label. This is a new, reimagined Johanna Warren, and she has a lot of stories to tell.