REVIEW: Yohuna - Patientness

Laura Kerry

Yohuna’s album Patientness was born from a fire. You could certainly interpret that metaphorically, but as the artist (who is Wisconsin-born Johanne Swanson in her non-musical life) attributes her debut to an actual fire, with flames and smoke and the works. One day last year, after Swanson moved to New York for a residency at Brooklyn’s Silent Barn, she returned to her place to find it burning. The spark of trauma, along with a period of displacement that led her to Montreal and producer and artist Owen Pallett, initiated the flow of creative juices.

The result of the event and subsequent displacement—along with many previous ones that include moves to New Mexico, LA, and Berlin—is a beautiful and intimate album that travels through genres as fluidly as Swanson migrates through places. At the forefront of Patientness is the artist’s clear voice carrying direct but delicate lyrics, but the bigger propulsive force is the way that it works in tension with disparate elements throughout the album. In the opener, “Lake,” voices sing gentle harmonies over swirling ‘80s synths that somehow sound as folky as the picking pattern on guitar that weaves through them. In the bigger second song, “The Moon Hangs in the Sky Like Nothing Hangs in the Sky,” Yohuna introduces a grinding electric guitar, a sound that reemerges at varying volumes on “World Series,” “Deep Date,” and “Apart.” Sometimes, even a stray flute or organ sound makes an appearance, meandering through rock drums or the occasional trip-hop beat.

Beyond the artist’s skills as a singer and songwriter, Patientness is a testament to one of Swanson’s other talents: finding the right people in the many places she calls home. In addition to Pallett, who contributed to the warm and ethereal production, she found herself among a creative group in Brooklyn that participated on the album in various forms. If songs such as “World Series” are reminiscent of Eskimeaux’s Year of the Rabbit, it could be because Swanson joined forces with Emily Sprague and Felix Walworth, both collaborators of Eskimeaux’s Gabrielle Smith (the former handled mellotron on Patientness, and the latter played drums). The artists seem related by more than just their band members, though. In lines such as, “I would like to be hung over / With sun streaming over us / That’s when things are normal” (“World Series”), Yohuna echo the directness and unpretentiousness that make the music of artists like Smith, along with her other friend and collaborator, Frankie Cosmos, so compelling.

Also like Eskimeaux and Frankie Cosmos, Yohuna navigates her vulnerability beautifully. Would-be clunky lines such as, “I only tell the truth soaked in booze” (“Apart”) sound earnestly confessional, made graceful by their directness and the rawness with which she sings them. It’s that reflective clarity, wandering its way through sadness, joy, love, and a spectrum of sounds and genres, that creates the lush and personal map of Patientness.