Jillette Johnson may not be a musical household name yet, but the way things are going, it won’t be surprising when it happens. A native to the New York music scene, Jillette has garnered a steady following, demonstrating to those who see her live show that talent and musicianship is not completely dead. Signing a deal with Wind-Up records and working as a songwriter for BMI, more doors continue to open and new fans keep coming. Her debut album is expected to be released later this year, and with stark comparisons to that of Christina Perri, Fiona Apple, and Tori Amos, she is in good company; right now though you can check out her EP Whiskey & Frosting.
The beauty of that ethereal piano sound is a major characteristic in Jillette’s production throughout the record. The first track of Whiskey & Frosting, “Cameron,” is no different. A whimsical, legato piano starts the track off, giving credence to her musical prowess. This track serves a greater purpose than just being something catchy to listen to, which it is, as it delves into an overriding theme of individuality and being proud of whom you are, no matter how hard it may seem. “Since he was a little boy/he always felt more comfortable in lipstick…off the bus he runs and runs/to get home before anyone can catch him,” she sings in the first verse. It is much about individuality as it is about others unwillingness to accept and stick up for those derided for being nothing but their true self.
Understanding how to slowly build up a song is a crucial element and this song does just that. Each verse and chorus builds on top of each other. The first chorus, for example only incorporates piano and violin, but by the second time, the whole band is playing, and the energy and strength in the message is at the forefront. “These days the world is full of aliens/the world is full of aliens/but you are a human/a real life human,” she professes in the chorus. By the end, it’s not this boy who is the outsider, but the bigots rather, who try to inhibit who he is at heart.
The next track, “Torpedo,” is arguably the song with the heaviest hook and best level of production. Not waiting to grab the listener’s attention, it opens with the words, “Come on Torpedo!” with elements of staccato and hand claps that accomplish in wanting you to see where the song goes. “I know how to take a right hook, I know how to put a shot back,” she sings, helping allude to her as a fighter that is not willing to throw in the towel, but continue fighting for the long haul. This song is an anthem, a call to dig deep within ourselves and continue on the journey that is life.
The hook is something that I would compare to Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.” Like that song, a rush of multi layered guitar, piano, and drums beautifully accompany Johnson’s powerful, sultry voice. She has a chip on her shoulder and its evident not only in how she sounds, but in what she writes: “So come on torpedo do your worst/ hit me right in the heart, blow me up ‘til you see my ghost/ I will not lay down and run/I will not make it easy.” Clearly, this is someone who has fought some demons in her life and being so open about it allows for the song to hit a central nerve. She seems to understand that writing a song so personal, so unadulterated, is what makes people want to continue to listen, not some incessant, forced melody.
“Heathen” marks yet another catchy pop tune that switches things up a bit by starting off with acoustic guitar. The buildup in this song is just as exemplary as the others. If you’re a sucker for tambourine and kick drum, then this song does not disappoint. “I’m at the belly of the world/talking to myself/lover can you lift me?” she writes, shedding light on a different, more vulnerable side of herself. Asking for help to be shaken out of this lull, we see a more complete person through the words she writes, one full of doubts, insecurities, pride, and compassion.
The last two tracks, “When the Ship Goes Down” and Pauvre Coeur,” are very much along the lines of Sarah Bareilles, being both piano and vocals driven. They are more stripped down and help to further authenticate Johnson as a singer-songwriter that has a lot of talent when it comes to melody and captivating lyrics. All in all, this a solid first effort EP that you should definitely check out if you are looking for something fresh in the female pop/singer-songwriter category.