Swelling from the silence like a nameless, placeless wave in the center of the ocean, we find a bittersweet, highly textured melody in the midst of the surreal backdrop afforded to “St. Catherine” that begs for us to turn up our stereos and examine its heady harmony for all of the acrylics it has to offer us, even in this audiological form. While striking different in stylization than “Aurora” is, “St. Catherine” is perhaps the best example of JD Lion’s ability to merge the flagrantly experimental with the sophisticatedly serene, dispensing an evenhanded rhythm peppered with obtuse melodic features that would just as soon have had no cosmetic role to play in a contemporary pop song. “Aurora” is decidedly more angular in spirit and design, and while both of the aforementioned compositions lack the grandiosity of the psychedelic-tinged “Majic,” there isn’t a moment within the three-song tracklist for Lion’s Northern Lights EP that feels inaccessible, nor aesthetically far-reaching, by any means at all. Northern Lights is unquestionably one of the most texturally expressive records I’ve listened to in 2020, and while it lacks lyrics, it arguably tells a more gripping story than any of the traditional concept works I heard in the month of March did.
“St. Catherine” would have benefited from a bigger bass presence than it was ultimately mixed with, but I suppose I can understand what Lion was trying to accomplish in keeping the bottom-end tones as minimal as he did in this instance. In avoiding an indulgent bassline component in this track, as well as the other two songs on Northern Lights (to a lesser extent, I should add), he definitely makes it easier for us to tune-in to the rhythmic definition producing the multifaceted emotionality in the music – which is something that would have been exceptionally more difficult had the mix been saturated in a heavier bass tonality. “Aurora” and “Majic” are a bit more abrasive, at least in their jaggedly-stylized harmonies, but I wouldn’t call their arrangements overly experimental in the least. Nothing here would qualify for as much, and yet there’s no describing the conceptualism involved in structuring every stitch of material here as being mainstream by any critical measurement.
While I was only just recently introduced to the music of JD Lion through an industry colleague out of his hometown of Austin, Texas, I’m definitely planning on keeping an eye out for more of his music in the future, as he definitely flexes more than enough muscle in this disc to sell me on his skillset. Northern Lights is as far away from being a complicated listen as it gets, but this isn’t to say that its content is devoid of complexity (particularly of the most erudite quality in songs like “Majic”). Fans of ambient music both old and new alike have been raving over the genre’s incredible production in the past few years, and as long as artists like JD Lion continue to make experimental works like this, the buzz will only grow stronger.
by Bethany Page