Johnny Mafia, for the uninitiated, are a fourpiece from the small town of Sens, outside Paris. The band, who have been active since 2014, have just released their fourth album ‘Sentimental’ via Howlin Banana Records. They specialise in big pop punk hooks and giant melodies. From the off, on opener ‘Split Tongue’ you can detect a heavy Pixies influence. The frantic guitar chords echo ‘Something Against You’ and they make great use of stop start dynamics to accentuate the power. The vocals here, however, sound more like Julian Casablancas of The Strokes.
The almost title track ‘I’m Sentimental’ embraces cavernous reverb in the moody verses and a Nirvana-esque chorus.
The vocals strain like Kurt Cobain and the sound is absolutely massive. The guitars create a dense wall of distortion, and squeal with feed back at the end.
The don’t really take their foot off the gas. ‘Aria’ again hits those perfect Kim Deal melodies that the Pixies lost following her departure. There’s also a rather striking similarity to Built To Spill evident here. On ‘Phone Number’ the approach is much more Nirvana-esque (although, of course Nirvana was heavily influenced by the Pixies). It comes complete with brilliantly brutal screams and a Dave Grohl drum solo.
They sound very similar to The Strokes on the verses of ‘Trevor Philippe’, owing to the lightly scuzzy guitars and straightforward drums. The chorus explodes with melodies that transform the song into something closer to Built To Spill, but with keys that echo The Cure’s ‘Just Like Heaven’.
While the band have clearly soaked in these influences and they are present throughout they, more often than not, don’t completely sound like one or the other.
Their songwriting and melodic sensibilities are huge. They keep melodies simple and super catchy throughout. ‘Refused’ is just great songwriting.
‘Love Me Love Me’ lightly apes the verse melodies of Nirvana’s ‘Drain You’ before launching into another Built To Spill pop chorus. They break down into ‘Where Is My Mind’ “ooh-ooh-ooh”s. It’s like a magical 90s mixtape. The difference with Johnny Mafia, is that they seem to enjoy indulging in the odd fret tapping outburst.
Just when a melody feels like it might be almost cloying they give you more reason to not press the skip button. ‘Problem’ initially sounds like this but packs in another absolutely fantastic chorus melody and some satisfyingly buzzy 90s Flaming Lips guitars. Ultimately they sound like they are constantly having a whale of a time. ‘TV and Disney’ is also testament to this. It bursts with youthful exuberance and boundless energy and comes complete with cliche rock n roll ending.
By the time ‘No More Toes’ comes around we start feeling the record is a little overlong.
This is not anything to do with the actual songwriting, which is top notch, but the constant intensity.
However, were it to cut short we would miss the superb ‘Nail Gun’, which sways along a Breeders bassline and packs a prime Doug Martsch chorus. It’s quite possibly the stand out track on the album. ‘Ushuaïa’ would perhaps have been better placed earlier in the tracklist, as it provides a little more space and dynamics than anything else on the record. It’s kind of their ‘Wave of Mutilation’.
‘On My Knees’ also provides another breather, but, as the closing track you can understand the decision to put it here. Still, sometimes there’s a benefit in ending with a blast.
Whilst their 90s influences are not just worn on their sleeves but have kind of consumed them, ‘Sentimental’ is an absolute blast. Johnny Mafia have confirmed themselves as a supremely gifted indie rock/pop punk band.
The Bad Pelicans, The Breeders, Built To Spill, Doe, Nirvana, Pixies, The Strokes