I loved Johnathan Rice’s Further North and had a silly crush on him for a while after a San Diego show where I SWEAR he winked at me , thus when I heard his voice on opening track “Scissor Runner” I instantly felt all twitterpated and ready to rock for the rest of I’m Having Fun Now. The fresh album is a collaboration between super talented sweethearts Rice and Jenny Lewis, and it plays out as previewed on Further North’s tracks “End of the Affair” and “What Am I Going To Do?.” All of the pleasing retro rock is present on the duo’s lovechild release, but with a dose of the whimsy and fun that the album title suggests.
Some tunes on I’m Having Fun Now do feature duets (“Switchblade”), but even then it sounds like a split screen shot of two doe-eyed lovers singing their thoughts in separate, leaky-ceilinged studio apartments. Ultimately that feeling that they’re never really singing directly to each other is really what keeps things from getting overtly sugary. I went into my listening session with a serious fear that this was going to be just way too cute, or just a little too She&Him, i.e. all She with very little Him. That fear probably isn’t unwarranted given that Lewis has reached a ridiculous cult status, but thankfully even in numbers where she carries the melody ("Big Wave"), Rice has a ghostly, distant presence. Throughout, the fuzzy vocals are more like bright banter than eye-to-eye, cheek-to-cheek harmonization, and I think most listeners will be supremely pleased it goes down that way.
Be warned, if you find constant distortion and layering a hard pill to swallow, this may not be your end-of-summer jam. Very rarely, if ever, does the reverb-rock ever let up, and thus Lewis is not free to belt it out with the crystal-shattering clarity present on Rilo Kiley’s Under the Blacklight. However, it seems like the choice to forgo showcasing in the vocals was carefully made so that neither lover would outshine the other. There is a sharp point to their back-and-forth, though, so that there are enough twists and jabs of playful sarcasm - such as “there are so many ways to please a lover, I’ll speak when spoken to, I’ll sweep the ashes” or “I’ll take the whip, you take the reins”- to keep things from getting overly lovey-dovey and boring.
Jenny and Johnny successfully avoid sounding like a reinterpretation of the pair’s separate projects. Rather, it’s apparent that they have their intertwined fingers on the pulse of what’s been growing in the indie rock scene this summer – sparkly surf-rock featuring undeniably catchy melodies with just a hint of the dark undercurrent of the ocean. Keep on rockin’ me, babies.