When plotting artists' development, most seem to follow a smooth, upward trendline in which talent, songwriting, and personal voice are all developed in unison. However, on occasion, an exceptional talent like Oliver Johnson (a.k.a. Dorian Concept) comes along and carves out a very different path. Early tracks like 2008's "Trilingual Dance Sexperience" and 2009's "The Fucking Formula" showcased an unrestrained, youthful brashness and also proved that Johnson was capable of creating truly exciting and unique music that was simultaneously novel and heady. Several years later, he's returned—following a lengthy period of relative quiet—with his second LP, Joined Ends, and from the album's opening movements, it's apparent that he's learned to rein in his eminent musicianship while producing something that is both cohesive and edited. His voice has caught up to his talent.
One need only plumb the depths of YouTube to find Yorktown Recreation—an account started in 2006 that mostly features Johnson's hands assaulting some of the "it" synths of the day (e.g. the Micro Korg and Alesis Micron)—to understand the preternatural ability he developed at an early age. Not only was Johnson working with complex chord structures, but he could also improvise potent melodies while simultaneously modulating and affecting the sounds he was producing in the moment.
Comparing these workouts to the first bars of "The Sky Opposite," Joined Ends' opening cut, it immediately becomes clear that we are not hearing the same penchant for glitchy, head-bobbing tunes with funky, outside tonality. The song features an almost churchly pipe organ, which rises from a decidedly warm and nostalgic orchestration of synth stabs. There's a quality of cinema and progression that folds into "Ann River, Mn," a swelling arrangement of Wurlitzer, xylophone, and masked vocals accented by an ever-unresolving riff—it's a masterful implementation of build and release, wrought in subtlety.
Lead single "Draft Culture" exemplifies Johnson's journey. A harmony of bells and electric piano introduce a bass/synth hook, which is ultimately joined by well-tuned percussion that produces an unhurried shuffle. It's a catchy riff, but Johnson is no longer willing to leave it at that. At the track's halfway point, he takes a sudden (yet natural) left turn from a darker atmosphere into an almost tropical chorus of uplifting vocals. "Draft Culture" is a fully fledged song.
This unfurling and intermingling of carefully arranged elements is characteristic of Dorian Concept's new direction. Where earlier efforts tended toward a constant—and highly energetic—dynamic, Joined Ends breathes and expands gracefully. Often, its songs will drift into absolute silence or isolate a scant few elements that imply rather than tell. In lieu of simply filling the sonic spectrum and flexing his raw ability, Johnson has left plenty of space for engaged listening and interpretation. Joined Ends is a place to visit, not just a piece to behold.