It's not at all hard to dig Lazrus. This, the debut solo full-length from songwriter Daniel Johnson — namesake and leader of late and lauded indie-rock cabal Judah Johnson (as well as a sometimes MT contributor) — offers much to justify referencing a biblical figure whose name has become shorthand for suddenly coming back to life. After all, this is Johnson's official return to the world of songwriting and performance after killing off Judah Johnson. Except there's nothing sudden about the gorgeous electronics-based, organic-textured, richly told tales in evidence here. In fact, Lazrus began as a means for Johnson to teach himself electronic recording and music-making techniques. And over the course of the last two years, he gradually blew more life into it (chronicling the process at lazrus.tumblr.com) until it emerged thus, a collection of 10 compositions that mingle ephemeral and classic, specific and evocative into a bitchin' brew of moody pop music that feels like a collection of short stories well told.
As a producer, Johnson has the kind of distance suggesting an inner editor at home with conveying big ideas with small gestures. His arrangements — though they range from blues-ish rock-y to nearly ambient — all contribute to a coherent whole. The stories here are fully formed (whether they're a few spare lines or full-on narratives) are nearly uniformly marvelous, limning a dream-like space where satori meets disintegration. When that economy and experimentation come together on jams like "Goodbye Silhouette" and "Lazrus," it's good old-fashioned alchemy. Johnson is a helluva lyricist, worrying lines like a poet, delivering them like someone committed to (gasp!) singing.
Sonically, he plays with pieces of Alex Chilton mingling with 10cc, Bowie boogeying with melodies hinting at parlor singalongs, bossa nova, Brian Eno and Steely Dan — let's just say it's a heady brew and leave the references right there. OK, one more: "Goodbye Silhouette" has a harmony synth line that climbs and tumbles like a great lost magic moment from another Johnson — The The's Matt.
Daniel gets some help along the way from some inventive pals too — including former Judah Johnson members Charles Koltak and Rodrigo Palma (keys and bass, respectively) and guitarist Trevor Naud and drummer Collin Dupuis (both of Zoos of Berlin, the former of which also created the cover art).
In short(-ish), it's clear that in his effort to make accessing this music easy, Johnson has bided his time sweating the small stuff. And in this age of instant gratification and record-it-and-release-it ceaseless product, it's refreshing to see an album and an artist spring forth so deceptively effortlessly.