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  • Jonathan Widran

JOANNA FINNIS, Bounce

The fact that Joanna Finnis’ ultra-hip, delightfully bubbly and charming 80s throwback album Bounce doesn’t include a track by that name seems curious at first glance, but when we begin to immerse not only in this collection but her entire catalog, the choice of title makes perfect sense. In an industry where independent artists are often encouraged to build a following by sticking to a single genre and a narrow musical path (lest they confuse loyal fans and potential new ones), Joanna Finnis boldly and quite dramatically defies conventional wisdom. Simply and whimsically stated, she bounces around a lot from genre to genre.


On a prolific roll since the release of her quirky synth pop album Vexed in 2021, the multi-talented composer and singer/songwriter has released two new age-y piano and orchestra driven albums of contemporary instrumental music (Sea Notes, Journey’s End), the dream pop collection Ethereal, the quirky singer/songwriter-oriented Love Notes and now the synth pop delight Bounce. The fact that all this genre-hopping has earned her nearly 18,000 monthly Spotify listeners and a beautiful piano tune (“Flight of the Seabirds”) with over 750K streams translates to the reality that it’s all working out great for her.   

  

That eclecticism extends to her non-recording life as well, as she has sung lead for multiple bands, written for other bands and artists, run a children’s singing school, has performed at major venues (including singing the National Anthem at a San Francisco Giants game) and was a volunteer choir director for an elementary school choir for ten years. Most likely, with all the success she’s enjoying, Joanna may not be inclined to pick a single genre to unleash her creativity – but if she ever did, I would humbly suggest she focus on fun, playful and musically (if not always lyrically) cheerful projects like Bounce.


On the lead single, a co-write with fellow indie singer/songwriter Michael Peloso titled “Just Another Day,” Joanna may be “stuck upside down,” bearing the cross and crown of romantic rejection as she deals with “Just another day without.” But the keyboard motif is so intoxicating, the beats so buoyant and her dreamy high ranging voice so charming and cool that she’s not allowing us to feel too much of her pain. The track is kind of the perfect emotional disconnect between despondent lyrics and lighthearted danceable music. As if to say, I’m hurting but I’m out dancing anyway. Brilliant.   



The likewise infectious, atmospheric, mid-tempo synth washed gem that follows, “Darkness,” lets us know that though she’s been hurt and thus a bit hesitant to give in to her feelings for a guy with a dangerous reputation, she’s more than willing to unshackle her emotions and runaway into the darkness with him. This song features a cool juxtaposition of the lower and upper registers of Joanna’s voice. On the plucky, whimsical and equally hypnotic “Cross My Heart,” she needs less than two and a half minutes to let us in on an important little secret: that no one’s gonna hurt her because “I am the lucky one. . .’cause I find it fun/You will will never understand me.” Later we discover that she’s a “fearless one ‘cause I know how to move on.” Which goes a long way toward us listeners understanding how she can remain so upbeat even when the world tries to inflict pain.


The singer really lets her inhibitions fly on the densely synth percussive, new wave-ish “Let It Out,” which features what is probably the album’s catchiest ear worm of a hook: “out out out…to dance about…without a doubt and break it out.” On this gem, her senses awaken, “one flame set free,” her fear is fading with all the changes she’s making. Her cleverest rhyme: “The energy’s rising/Illuminate with no compromising.” Matters of the heart are all about balance, so it makes ironic sense that Joanna follows that breakthrough with a reminder that sometimes, love just hurts and we need a song that expresses this pain – which comes on “My Heart Dies A Little” a moody, sensual mid-tempo tune about longing, feeling the pain of seeing one’s love with a new girlfriend, and subtly stalking because it’s so hard to let go.


The animation on Spotify when we play “Two of Us” is of a colorful spinning hypnosis wheel, and our ears can experience the same sensation as our eyes as Joanna blends a murky, immersive flow (under “you’re making me believe your lies”) with a peppy, high-energy brightness when she sings “It’s a crazy rush/Feeling dangerous/Doing what we want.” It’s the darkness and shadows of fear giving way to an obsession where rules are made to be broken. The lighthearted, sensual and wildly galloping grooving of “Back For More” offers another cautionary tale about defying danger in the face of romantic excitement (maybe a metaphor for the singer’s genre defiance?) and being drawn in again and again by a guy who is worthy of numerous thunder-related analogies.


Joanna wraps the set by manipulating her voice into a synthesizer at the start of another impossibly infectious romp “24/7” which repeats “I’m thinking of you” to emphasize the powerful hold of nonstop obsession. About a minute in, the song leaves behind its synth-generated shackles and explodes into a high energy rocker. Then she submerges her voice before exploding with emotion once again. Love and obsession is like that, where we are forced to hide it until its all consuming power is too much.


Though the intricate sonic craftsmanship of Bounce will appeal mostly to fans of 80sa and current synth-pop, songwriters learning their craft should pay attention to Joanna’s brilliantly economical storytelling – allowing us to experience an incredible gamut of emotions over eight songs in less than 24 minutes. As a new fan, I’m fine with her doing her piano/orchestra thing again and again, as long as she graces us with more albums like Bounce in the future!  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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