In his new extended play Northern Lights, Austin’s JD Lion explores the atmospheric end of the chill-hop spectrum across three short but entirely elaborate compositions that don’t require any previous knowledge of the genre to appreciate (which is quite uncommon among the output of his peers this season to say the least). Putting tonality before everything else, including the status quo parameters of composing in this experimental style of music, Lion creates a meditative environment in Northern Lights that has the potential to transport its audience to a realm of total relaxation and, on occasion, intensely provocative thinking, all without ever asking anything from listeners in exchange for a wealth of artistic expression you just don’t find every day when scanning record stores for inspiring new beats.
The grooves in “Aurora,” the opening cut in Northern Lights, frame the main melody in the track beautifully and, in more ways than one, I think they magnify the haunting quality of the rigid harmonies in this track better than any other component could have. When you’re working without a conventional vocalist, it can sometimes be difficult to contextualize the emotions behind a composition as multilayered as this one is, but for JD Lion, I think that injecting this song with any more detail would have made its implied narrative overwhelming. There are something that you just have to feel to understand, and that’s precisely the case with all three of the tracks featured on this wonderfully entrancing EP.
Production-wise, JD Lion’s latest studio release is absolutely one of the smoothest records that I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing this spring, but it’s hardly weighed down with additional frills that have no place in the mix other than to beef up the presence of the instrumentation. “Majic” is sublimely minimalistic, but its crisp beats fetch more of a cathartic finish than any of the pop hooks I’ve heard out of the mainstream have lately, while the postmodern “St. Catherine” sports an attention to detail amidst its kaleidoscopic melding of synthetic harmonies and exotic string play that I would love to hear Lion’s contemporaries adopt in their own future works. Everything has its place in Northern Lights, and although carefully arranged as to keep the energy flowing from beginning to end here, I wouldn’t describe any element of its tracklist as being predictable in the least.
Ambient fans and newcomers to the genre who are in the mood for some rhythmic vibes this April simply can’t go wrong with picking up JD Lion’s tremendously evocative Northern Lights EP, and while it’s not the only intriguing experimental release out this season, it’s definitely one of the most unique to come out of the Austin underground thus far. Lion doesn’t hold anything back from us as both a composer and a performer in this record, and though he effectively raises the bar for his brand moving forward here, something tells me that, judging from the ambitious nature of this extended play, he won’t have too difficult a time living up to the new standard he’s set for himself in the future.