Producer and composer Johnny Jewel’s latest album Digital Rain feels simultaneously like something intricate and delicate, and something that he finished over the course of a weekend. Of course both of those traits can coexist, but there’s something about this album which totally envelopes you when you’re listening to it, then evaporates out of your mind once you’ve stepped away.
Despite the lengthy track number – 19 – the album is a reasonable length of 41 minutes. It is also a bit of a departure for the musician, at least from Jewel’s most recent output on the 2017 album Windswept, his contributions to the Twin Peaks: The Return soundtrack and the work of his main project Chromatics. Those tracks were slower, warmer, with a hint of jazz or disco influences. Digital Rain is very much like its album image: a perfectly crisp ice cube. Every sound is crystal clear and slick. But the clarity and coldness associated with that image isn’t necessarily a negative aspect; the ice also connotes elements like symmetry and efficiency (those perfectly cut corners; no ragged edges here) that Jewel’s album reflects as well. It’s a purely instrumental album, but each track flows together creating a whole sound that keeps up a decent momentum for forty minutes while maintaining its hypnotic chill.
As most of the songs flow into the next, with some tracks being less than a minute in length, it’s difficult to pinpoint standouts, but there are a few that do stick out. The first track, “Digital Rain,” is a good album opener as it sounds like its name and becomes the electronic equivalent of rain track on a sound machine. Its crisp notes even carry a bit of jaunt with them, imbuing this album with some more “pep in the step” than Windswept. This tiny addition of energy to the otherwise very atmospheric sound helps to grab our attention immediately, and the pattern crops up throughout to continue to grab us back in if we start to drift. For instance, “Double Exposure” and its follow-up “The Runner” build to an energetic beat that actually does conjure up an image of motion in your mind. The rhythms created by those tracks gradually fade down until, a few tracks later, we reach “What If,” which is the most atmospheric and dreamlike song on the album. This actually makes it stand out compared to the other 18 songs, which more often than not feature some kind of notable rhythm or sense of motion. The end of the album comes at just the right time, before we start to fade. First we get the truly kind of weird “Seven Corners,” which sounds a bit like if The Exorcist theme was played on a harpsichord, and “Cellophane,” which feels primed to score any number of sci-fi films. After those, we end with “Houston,” which is a relatively sleepy note to end on, but it does so with the plinky, rain-like notes from “Digital Rain,” which brings the whole album full circle, around and around forever and ever.
That looped nature of the music as a whole is a solid representation of the experience of listening to it. It wraps you up in its mood immediately, regardless of what you had been listening to or feeling a moment before. It pulls you in and keeps you there, lightly hypnotized by its undulations and rhythms until you decide to leave. But if there is the option to repeat the album immediately after it ends, you probably wouldn’t notice right away. This is a good thing, specifically for Jewel’s particular kind of electronic and atmospheric music, but it does mean that many of the 19 tracks don’t stand apart as their own piece of music, and in fact only about three made any impression in my memory when not listening to it. The memory of the album as a whole is then largely a memory of “good” filler music between the standout songs, all of which doesn’t make a very compelling case to revisit the album frequently.
Digital Rain is efficient, clear and precise in its tone but, just like its titular weather event, it’s difficult to make last and really hold onto.