Album review: Johnny Jewel – Digital Rain

Johnny Jewel is an extremely busy man, spreading himself across three bands, and solo productions as well as writing music for film. Whether his fans know him his as the leader of Chromatics, a member of Glass Candy or Desire, they will surely be excited to hear what his latest album Digital Rain has to offer…

As the title suggests, this project is heavily based around the theme of water. As concept albums go, this is an intriguing place to find inspiration. Jewel could have explored water’s many different forms, using frozen ice, or steam to spark his creativity. Our world is around 70% water, our environment of oceans, rivers and lakes could have also been strong concepts, instead he opted for the much more evocative choice of weather. Jewel originated from the heat of Houston, Texas but has also lived in the northern, colder Portland, Oregon; right now however, he resides in the dry climate of Los Angeles. The album represents hail, snow, torrential rain, sleet and flooding, something which he is much less familiar with of late.


“After living a few years in a desert climate, I realised I was nostalgic for the constant presence of precipitation from every city I once called home.”


Jewel is clearly a very creative musician with an impressively active output. Some of his best work comes when creating sounds for film and television. For example when producing music for Nicolas Winging Refn’s Drive (the majority of which sadly didn’t make it to the big screen) he was able to paint sonic pictures of downtown L.A perfectly, almost creating a new genre in the process. His collaborations with David Lynch for the Twin Peaks: The Return soundtrack were incredibly strong, highlighting his soft spot for atmosphere; something which helps tie together each of his musical identities.

As a producer who is fascinated by the sound, look and feel of water, it is no surprise that this is a drenched, sodden sounding album. Jewel uses synthesizers and other electronic sounds on Digital Rain, avoiding the use of guitars, vocals or even drums. The resulting sound is an overwhelmingly cold one. There are times where the album could be perceived as tranquil, whereas others have a more menacing, violent feel. The project begins with the aptly named title track, instantly conjuring images of synthetic raindrops. Eventually the whirling, windy synths appear to wash away the rain, but before long the digital, echoing bleeps return. His synth work is impeccable here, and towards the end of the piece we hear more thick, waves of soaking wet chords. “Black Pyramid” features little more than a heavily detuned synth, and lasts only a minute. “The City Of Roses” that follows is equally as minimal, and somehow more lightweight, like a delicate snowflake or a fleeting early morning layer of sleet.

“The Runner” is one of the first glimpses of something more stormy, featuring a rougher, low-end stab, and the return of familiar rainy synth bleeps. Each track blends seamlessly with the next, and what follows on “Air Museum” sounds as if Jewel has flown his studio up into the clouds. “Monsoon” is an abstract, short journey that cleverly imitates a rainforest aesthetic, while “Magma” almost acts as a 2nd act to “Monsoon” and is just as short. Much of the album’s content involves still, shimmering interludes that come and go, leaving you wanting more.

Like the short but sweet “Liquid Lucite”, the synthetic downpour on “Aerosol”, and the splashing bells heard on “Seven Corners”. Digital Rain‘s beauty is certainly in Jewel’s ability to hold back, letting the icy, alien sounds do the talking. It was certainly a smart move to opt for shorter tracks; contrasting against many other ambient albums, Digital Rain keeps moving forwards. As the sky fills with dark clouds, mounting into a full thunderstorm, you are never too far away from clearer skies with only a little drizzle.

As modern concept albums go, this is one for Jewel to be proud of. It clearly achieves its artistic goal, without being drowned in its theme, and would be equally as enjoyable to listen to if you were unaware of its weather-based influences.

Why not visit us at Richer Sounds today to hear it at its best, on one of our hi-fi systems?