Where did jj come from? The Swedish duo, unknown and perhaps nonexistent until recently, put out two albums in the past eight months; both are very good and very cryptic. jj n° 2, last year’s concise (and counterintuitively titled) debut, offered poppy Balearic beats, guitars and keyboards that shimmered, and smoky female vocals, all finessed with R&B flourishes. The songs sounded familiar—long-forgotten MTV jams, maybe—but the whole enterprise came off as elusive, a bit like the singers’ hard-to-place accents. What were listeners to make of a dubbed-out version of Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop”? What about that giant pot leaf on the album cover?
On the whole, jj n° 3 is more straightforward, more welcoming. The band still adores spacey pastiche: The opener, “My Life,” commences with a bluesy, solo piano rendition of The Game’s “My Life,” which morphs abruptly into the foam-party chestnut “Around The World.” But rather than piling on congas, woodblocks, and knowing winks, jj n° 3 is restrained, sometimes favoring just cymbal and snare. The best songs, like the standout “Voi Parlate, Lo Gioco,” play in contrasts, summoning synthetic swells that teeter toward cheesy but end up transcendent. They could’ve fallen out of a high-school locker in a John Hughes movie. They’re the best Lou Pearlman demos you’ve never heard.