Johnson – Agony Acceptance Ecstasy

Agony Acceptance Ecstasy

The two-person Johnson’s Agony Acceptance Ecstasy compiles the best recordings that came from the band’s four years of recording: 1996 through 1999. The result is likely to appear repetitive after listening to the first three songs. The album opens with “My Favorite Shirt,” a rather enjoyable number about – you guessed it – “I had this shirt / since ’89 / my reflection screamed / you’re looking fine.” “Mailman” is another lyrically pleasing song about how guitarist, vocalist, and drummer Jason Tribiano trusted his mailman. And then one day the mailman shot 17 people. The song ends with how Jason still reads his mail anyhow. These two slow, post-pop numbers in the vein of the melodic softness of Modest Mouse’s This is a Long Drive For Someone With Nothing to Think About are separated by the similarly slow instrumental, “Just a Day.” And while the album’s first three tracks do please, an entire album made of similar-sounding songs might end up a tad repetitive. Luckily, Agony Acceptance Ecstasy reveals its diversity with each song.
“Rungs Down the Ladder at the Nobody Lunch Table” consists of sleepy, repetitive guitar picking with the addition of the airy Prophet 606 in the background. A simple, satisfying number. A few more pleasant instrumentals pass (vocals are used sparingly on this record) before the album sees a complete change of pace. Agony Acceptance Ecstasy’s first six songs were recorded from ’97 to ’99, whereas the last five songs are from mostly ’96, two from ’97. It is obvious that Johnson matured into quieter, more speculative territory as their years together passed. “Why You Swingin on Me” marks the beginning of this change of pace into more poppy territory. Bassist Mark Mcquillin sings this catchier number in a low, David Berman-esque (of the Silver Jews) voice, almost approaching a mid-tempo gait.
With “Low Rent Tragedy” it is official. “Low Rent Tragedy” actually approaches medium pace-dom. Clocking in at six minutes, it’s also the album’s most accessible. “I’m late with the rent / there’s no end coming close / I got to let go again,” sings Tribiano. With dual guitar work (the second one being dubbed), “Low Rent Tragedy” has a very American Water feel. “Back from Europe” continues in the mid-tempo tradition of “Low Rent Tragedy,” as it too was recorded in ’96. Yet this track is even louder, showing off a distorted guitar for the first time on Agony Acceptance Ecstasy. It has the sound of a less abrasive song off of Sebadoh’s Smash Your Head on the Punk Rock. Likewise, “Slowdive” is louder, and more classic indie. The album’s most diverse track is the eight-minute closer, “Head Above Water,” which begins in the same vein as the first few tracks: delicate and precise. It then evolves into a louder piece halfway through, stops entirely for about 30 seconds, and returns with a lengthy dialogue from an unnamed movie, followed by loud, rocking chords.
Johnon’s Agony Acceptance Ecstasy is an album of deception. The first half is slow and melodic, while the second is faster and more indie rock-sounding. I only wish that Johnson could have mixed the songs from ’96 with the later ones, so the album would not feel so divided. But that is why the “shuffle” option was created.