Jenny and Johnny
By Jessica Misener
August 31, 2010
Indie lovebirds Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice ooze hipster couple cool: they drive retro station wagons, talk on antique rotary phones instead of Blackberrys and go on double dates with Zooey Deschanel and Ben Gibbard.
And now Lewis, who's the frontwoman of Rilo Kiley, and Scottish singer/songwriter Rice, who have been dating for five years, are teaming up in the recording studio as well, releasing their debut LP, I'm Having Fun Now, under the name Jenny & Johnny.
The pair share vocals and play with light harmonies on Fun, a late-summer burst of sunny indie pop that can't help but recall that other she-and-him duo, She & Him. Sometimes Lewis and Rice hit their own original stride, like on the lilting "Big Wave" and on catchy standout track "My Pet Snakes," which is buoyed by the sort of bluegrass spunk that sprinkled Lewis' two solo albums. At other times, they run into the same doldrums that burden any album of twee folk: monotonous love ballads and heavy, hookless choruses.
But lest you fear Fun to be an exercise in trading sappy sweet nothings, Rice and Lewis seem determined to counter any hint of tenderness stemming from their real-life romance with dark lyrics. Lines like "It makes me queasy when you smile" are spit out with (tongue-in-cheek?) intention; "I don't think that two heads are better than one," Lewis sniffs on another track. On the surface, the album feels like August, and at its core, like February.
Yet, not all the sentiment is calculatingly covered up. When they coo about "sleeping in a golden cocoon with you" on the plaintive "New Yorker Cartoon," it's a gentle reminder that Jenny and Johnny are lovers instead of sparring partners. By the time "Slavedriver" trades the vitriol for bubbling strings and acoustic guitar, it's hard to even focus on what haunting lyrics might be lurking behind all the sun-soaked handclaps.
"All the best of luck with your career," Rice tosses out ironically at the end of "My Pet Snakes," as if reminding Lewis (and us) that she'll hopefully be back fronting Rilo Kiley after this musical detour. Fun might be a dark and mixed bag, but for now, Lewis and Rice are having too much of it to care.