Jack Johnson is one of those insanely talented artists that many people seem to brush over instantly because of his unique style and career. Not only has he released seven studio albums, but he’s also been a documentary filmmaker, a record producer, and a professional surfer in his illustrious past. For his most recent project, All The Light Above It Too, Johnson uses his newly released film, “The Smog of the Sea” as inspiration for a lot of the production and material throughout the record.
Much like on his previous projects, his home state of Hawaii shines bright on a number of these tracks, especially with his incorporation of the acoustic guitar. He has an important message embedded within the album, and he keeps it subtle under his gentle and sleek voice. The all-around summer vibe Johnson brings gives this record a great deal of quietness and serenity to it.
At only ten songs and a running time of 38 minutes, Johnson starts the first half by connecting the dots creatively before middling out in the final half of this project. The intro track, “Subplots,” represents the cover of the album perfectly. Right off the bat, Johnson is putting all of his complicated thoughts on paper, and drives home the emotion with his sweeping acoustic melody.
Initially, it may seem like Johnson is doing nothing that is necessarily memorable or different then many of his contemporaries, but in reality, he’s just taking a more faint approach. For example on the song, “Sunsets for Somebody Else” Johnson seems to have a deeper meaning to the lyrics than he thinks. There’s more to this song than just the fact that Johnson wrote this on a boat. He sings, “And oh, can this world afford to sleep anymore,” so seamlessly and confidently, with the notion that there is a major call-to-action for our society.
Tonally, he stays true to himself, and plays right into his strengths. Nothing sounds more Hawaiian than the powerful “You Can’t Control It.” It’s an interesting take on growing up as an adolescent and having so many conflicting thoughts going on within one’s head. It’s something that’s definitely been done before, but it’s intriguing to see an artist in there seventh go around tackle such an immense topic. Knowing that he composed this track while sitting on the beach, it helps listeners understand where most of his inspiration comes from. Johnson is not one to hide his enthusiasm.
As strong as the first five songs were on this project, there’s a couple of instances where Johnson tries to experiment a little too much. While it’s admirable, the tonal change feels a little too sudden especially on, “Big Sur.” He goes from this gorgeous ballad about the complications that go along with love on “Daybreaks,” immediately into the more upbeat former single. It seems out of place especially since “Big Sur” is right before another love song, where Johnson writes a beautiful ode to his current wife on, “Love Song #16.”
The album lags a tiny bit on “Is One Moon Enough” and “Gather,” but at least he keeps the earthy and elegant theme in tact. Ironically however, he finishes strong with “Fragments,” where Johnson once again contradicts his delightful acoustic guitar with a tone of seriousness sprinkled within his lyrics (Messages of love and hate/why can’t we relate/with ourselves with what we open/up when it’s too late). Without the production, it almost sounds like poetry inspired by the sea. That’s the case with a majority of these singles. He doesn’t present a complicated premise, but his style works.
People have argued that Johnson is playing right into his stereotype of being this artist who is into zen. Even if that’s true, he’s making it enjoyable. He paints a picture without doing anything grandiose or over-the-top, and sometimes, that’s all we need in music. All The Light Above It Too is a representation of someone who is still searching for passion and inspiration in the latter part of his career.