By Rhiannon Levengood
With her third studio album Oh Jonathan, Emily Kinney introduces her fans to a brand new sound that combines her iconic indie, pop vibe with a fresh synthesized feel. The tracklist includes fan favorites like “Same Mistakes”, “Jonathan”, and “Popsicles”, three songs that any diehard Emily Kinney ‘Lover’ would know, but still delivers a record completely unheard by anyone before. Oh Jonathan exhibits Kinney’s personal and musical growth, confidence, and ongoing desire to be loved in a way that’s short, sweet, and sometimes even explicit.
Oh Jonathan begins like a regular Emily Kinney show would with her song “Same Mistakes”. It opens her journey of finding true love by telling us that the rest of these songs will be about navigating her options and making both terrible and great decisions along the way. She expertly sets the tone for the rest of her record by slowly introducing her new electronic sound with an older song, perfectly blending two vibes into one. Kinney’s gentle voice tells a love story about returning to a relationship that is most likely toxic for her. She knows that she has a man who is ideal for anyone else, but her heart really belongs to this other guy, even if it hurts to love him sometimes, which is a lesson she’ll learn time and again.
“Same Mistakes” also portrays Emily’s confidence in herself and what she wants, especially when it comes to her romantic and sexual relationships. The first track effortlessly transitions into “Mortal”, another song that uses a synthesized beat to drive it forward. It recounts a story of a blossoming love, not yet complicated, but also not going anywhere either. The two share a love that’s exciting in the beginning stages, but as it progresses, it sort of dies out. Does he love her the way she loves him? Does he feel that connection like she does? It’s that uncertainty that keeps Kinney around.
Emily’s album continues with another one of her older (finally recorded!), but one of her best written songs. “Jonathan” has a very simple guitar riff that helps you focus on the creative, metaphorical lyrics. Emily and “Jonathan” are complete opposites, but they complement each other so well that Emily feels really drawn to him. She’s a ray of sunshine, and he’s a cloudy day, but his mysterious demeanor makes him interesting and addictive. The only problem is that the love Kinney feels is unrequited, so the song ends with her hoping for “Jonathan” to make his way back to her in the future.
Oh Jonathan takes a poppier turn with “Soda Glass”, a song about a fragile kind of love. It’s another story that burns out too quickly and leaves Kinney hopelessly heartbroken. While the affair is over, she is still kind of hopeful for a restart. “Soda Glass” is a little reminiscent of Emily’s song “In” from her debut EP Blue Toothbrush with similar lyrics. For example, in “In” Kinney describes her New York City apartment:
“You helped paint the walls, but got dirt on the carpet/But I didn’t mind cause you’re all that I wanted/Ignored broken glass/Forgave each small sin/Each time you knocked, I let you in,” which directly relates to: “I got your notes on napkins/And my blood on your walls/Our soda glass love could only take so many falls.”
The same theme of feeling used and thrown away continues into “Popsicles”. This song was initially released on Kinney’s second EP Back On Love, and originally had an acoustic guitar and piano instrumental track. The percussion parts were subtle and sounded like classroom instruments, giving the song an innocent vibe. For its rerelease on Oh Jonathan, “Popsicles” was given a new production, making it more upbeat and electronic to fit in with the rest of the record. The slight change makes me believe that Emily’s feelings regarding this song have changed over the past two years. Maybe she’s not as angry or hurt as she was when she first released it, and now she’s able to reimagine its sound and put more into its production.
“Drunk and Lost” is an almost love ballad that Emily sings for a guy she meets at a party. She tries enticing him to take her home, and if it all feels wrong, they can call any advances an accident in the morning. Again, her confidence in her sexuality and her desire to feel some love is evident here.
The steady buoyant vibe of the record slows down for “Loser”, a song Emily uses to smear an ex-lover. She incessantly asks him how it feels to not be good enough for her by comparing him to her current lover, and to his own past. The lyrics are transparent and vulgar, but flawlessly execute her emotions over their relationship’s demise. She builds up her self-worth by tearing him down in a way that’s almost empowering. Another difference between this song and the rest of the album is the use of a saxophone part during the bridge, that may or may not be a message in itself to the ‘loser.’
Oh Jonathan comes to a close far too soon with Emily Kinney’s two singles “Mermaid Song” and “Boy Band Hero.” Both of these tracks have a dreamy feel to them instrumentally and carry the ever-present theme of finding love and eventually moving on from it. “Mermaid Song” in particular showcases Kinney’s independence in a relationship that isn’t really going the way she wants it to, while “Boy Band Hero” reminds us that she’s always dreaming of falling in love.
To all the boys that Emily Kinney has loved before, thank you. Your imperfections and inabilities to love as deeply as Emily has given us yet another beautifully written record.