Cascades of Words and Self
Johanna Warren’s second album, nūmūn, is a number of things; it’s an exercise in word smithery, it’s an ode to new-agey lines of thinking, it’s young, it’s strange, it’s heavy at times. In many ways it’s exhausting.
Warren has already made some headway in her musical career. The 26-year old from that bastion of all things quirky, Portland, Oregon, has been a back up singer for Iron & Wine (most notably turning up in his band during a recent taping of David Letterman) and she has helped out on a Natalie Merchant record. No doubt, Warren has a beautiful, soothing voice and it shines through on this record. She is also a skilled guitarist, coaxing a 12-string tone out of her 6-string on the somber and moody “True Colors.” But the record is very much about word play.
Each measure of each song squeezes in verbage that feels like it’s pouring out in a cascade. Take the song “Less Traveled.” It’s a highly produced composition that opens with background whispers before Warren’s voice enters as she mentors to some unknown “little one” about the beauty and joy of life exploration. The main melody features a descending scale that enhances the sonic experience of a word waterfall.
While the record is artistically ambitious, it’s weighed down by a self-serious tone that drips from the title itself, the lyrical themes and even in Warren’s dedication of the album to the moon; “by collectively cultivating her, may we restore balance to our world.” By all reports, Warren is in the midst of a spiritual awakening that has made her self-aware to the point of singing about her own death in “Black Moss; “Someday black moss will cover over my dead body.” But in all, Warren sounds very young in her current approach to her music and aesthetic. nūmūn promises things to come, once Warren learns to channel her inner self with more maturity.