|2||Not The Same||3:51|
|6||Smile With My Eyes||4:01|
|9||Watch It Like A Show||4:36|
In March of 2020, after learning that a dear friend’s life was coming to an end, Johansing sat down and in one sitting wrote the song “Daffodils”. An elegiac tribute to someone facing death with grace and curiosity, the lyrics confront Johansing’s own mortality by observing the brief lifespan of a flower. Only a week later when the world came to an abrupt standstill, she soon found herself processing this recent loss while trying to make sense of a new global reality. Across the ensuing months, Johansing found herself increasingly untethered by a world of isolation and political upheaval.
Having been a frequent touring member of bands like Hand Habits and Fruit Bats, and often being called into the studio to lend her harmonies and multi-instrumental talents to records, Johansing’s phone no longer rang. Living in Los Angeles she feared her musical community was vanishing, as friends and collaborators continually announced they were leaving the city. It was in returning to her piano nightly that she found the greatest solace, feverishly writing the songs that would be collected on her next album. Resulting from this new sense of time and focus was a deepening of her songwriting. As Johansing recalls, “I felt like a metamorphosis happened during that time. There was a lot of personal growth and healing.”
Throughout Year Away Johansing traverses uncharted emotional landscapes brought upon by the changes occurring all around her. The forced self-reflection of the moment is aptly captured by “Old Friend”, featuring an aching melody and swooning production that recalls the best of Harry Nilsson. The epic piano and saxophone-driven “Smile with My Eyes” addresses the loss of community as friends became distant and political divides between family grew. On “Smile” Johansing pushes her vocals further than ever, expanding her range and using her peerless voice as the singular instrument it is. Facing the loss of a family home due to environmental destruction, “Shifting Sands” is marked by soaring Hlutes, Hield recordings and glassy synthesizers that nod to Japanese New Age.
“Daffodils”, the stunning album centerpiece, is built from a pastiche of looping samples, swirling Mellotron and dazzling vibraphone. “Keep your heart open wide, you never know your time / Keep your heart wild, true Hlower child”, Johansing sings as she says goodbye to an elder, while the band reaches a grief-stricken crescendo of woodwinds and chiming bells. On the title track, Johansing takes listeners on an eerily meditative journey of collective experiences. “I wanted to keep the progression simple and repetitive so that musically we could add new elements little by little, while the emotional tone of the lyrics becomes increasingly more strained and expressive”. The song grows to a fever pitch as Johansing sings higher than she thought possible; the tension of the repeating chords Hinally resolving into a hopeful coda as multiple soloists weave around each other.
Amidst heavier themes, Johansing still leaves room for her love of irresistible pop melodies and lush production. The driving “Last Drop” and mid-tempo “Valley Green” are two of her catchiest songs to date. On the former Johansing sings the anthemic chorus, “As if it were the last drop, and nothing ever lasts forever / As if it were the last stop, too far out to come back ever”, longing for a love that she’ll never take for granted, while also admitting that she doesn’t always know how good she has it. “Valley Green” features shimmering layers of 12- string guitars, stacked horns and an impeccable solo by co-producer and multi- instrumentalist Tim Ramsey (Vetiver, Fruit Bats), hinting at a love for bands like NRBQ.
Having been eager to capture the initial spark of songwriting, Johansing booked time at Highland Park’s 64 Sound Studio the week that it reopened. Over the course of three days, she and her band gathered basic tracks for 10 songs, before returning home to Hinish the record with Ramsey. Setting forth to make an album that paid homage to the music that kept them company during the months spent alone together, the duo pulled inspiration from a wide net including Burt Bacharach, John Carroll Kirby & Haruomi Hosono. Ramsey’s newfound love of early digital synthesizers dovetailed effortlessly with Johansing’s fondness for classic 70’s horn and string arrangements, creating a sound that is distinctly modern yet warm and familiar.
Once again Johansing called upon some of the Hinest players of Northeast Los Angeles’ vibrant music community to lend a hand with the record. The 70s R&B-folk of “Watch It Like a Show” features an electric guitar solo from Hand Habits’ Meg Duffy, while album closer “Endless Sound” boasts backing vocals from electronic musician Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and swooping Indian-inspired violins from Amir Yaghmai (HAIM, The Voidz). The record shines brightly thanks to an ace mix from veteran producer Rob Schnapf (Beck, Elliott Smith, Cat Power), woodwinds from Logan Hone (John Carroll Kirby, Eddie Chacon), and a featured rhythm section of drummer Josh Adams (Jenny Lewis, Bedouine) and bassist Todd Dahlhoff (Feist, Devendra Banhart). Recorded across multiple studios including LA’s famed Sunset Sound, the album remains steadfastly buoyed by the adept engineering of Tyler Karmen (MGMT, Alvvays).
Though born of turbulent times, Year Away is ultimately interested in moving forward. The album ends with “Endless Sound,” where Johansing laments seismic global changes, (“The water is hotter, the mighty thaw / The current’s reversing, the last are lost”) but vows to keep going (“No storm can take me down / Endless light, endless sound”). It’s Year Away’s resilience that shines through despite the darkness. It’s a sound all her own and Johansing’s most cohesive set of songs yet.