Even to fans of synthpop and electropop, the name Jonna Lee isn’t widespread outside of Europe. Lee, a native of Stockholm, began her musical career as a folk rocker, releasing her first album, 10 Pieces, 10 Bruises in 2007. The album produced one single, Dried Out Eyes and included a duet with Ed Harcourt on And Your Love. The following full-length album, This Is Jonna Lee, in the same alt-guitar pop vein came out in 2009. Both albums were produced by Lee and her collaborator, Claes Björklund.
The following years had Lee taking fellow Swede, Robyn’s role as vocal muse for Röyksopp in various shows around the world. However, health issues including a cancer scare and a thyroid disorder took Lee away from the spotlight and raised concerns that her voice could require sacrifice for her health. This, perhaps coupled with iamamiwhoami becoming an entity dependant on many more parts than Jonna Lee’s soaring vocals and songcraft alone, gave her much to ponder. Jump to early 2017, in the manner in which she began, Jonna Lee began a new cryptic campaign renaming herself ionnalee. First, SAMARITAN was released. Subsequent singles, NOT HUMAN and SIMMER DOWN were then put out. A full proper announcement of the upcoming album and its title was revealed. Everyone Afraid to Be Forgotten was announced to be released today, February 16th. On ionnalee.com, a lengthy statement regarding this new album and name change is detailed, revealing the inspiration for the title and the songs in a wonderfully composed paragraph:
As our generation pores over and pours into social media with a desire to leave as much of ourselves and our legacy out in the world – like a self-edited epitaph, to ensure that we are remembered and control how such remembrance is preserved – EVERYONE AFRAID TO BE FORGOTTEN explores the different fears and struggles we, as human beings, contend with. ionnalee has hers but, importantly, the songs are intelligently crafted so as to allow for the listener’s personal meaning to coexist.
Not to leave it at these 15 fantastic songs alone, an accompanying film has been released as well. As a whole and comparing to previous Lee releases, this album is definitely painted on a new (perhaps tighter) canvas with different brushes. Jonna Lee stated that as part of her reclamation as a solo artist (and to remain in the electronic realm), she learned the production side of music making and took on much of the drum programming for this album – an aspect that presumably would have been left to Björklund previously. The first two songs, WATCHES WATCHES and JOY have a minimalist sensibility in the rhythm tracks. As well, stabs of brass are used to great affect on the hip-hop-beated WORK. LIKE HELL seems to detail some emotions felt during her health scare. NOT HUMAN deliciously throws back to a taste of retro arrangements and sounds. However, it’s also the closest to an artistic callback as this is the first track on the album where Lee demonstrates her ability to wrap words around melody like no one else. DUNES OF SAND begins as a cinematic vocal duet with Jamie Irrepressible before ending in swirling vocals, dry beats and lovely arpeggios. SIMMER DOWN may be the perfect condensation of new and old, where Jonna Lee meets iamamiwhoami to truly reveal ionnalee. Where the layers of synth get paired down to remove some concept, perhaps even artifice, this entire album while not conceding any of Jonna Lee’s former aesthetics. Arguably, some of the lusher aspects, the softer edges, of the music are missing but that’s a nitpicking observation and one that isn’t a negative. There’s added beauty in a song like HERE IS A WARNING, that possibly wouldn’t have fit on previous releases. GONE starts in a familiar IAM vein (reminiscent of BLUE’s Shadowshow) but is still sits thematically in the EATBF sound. Claes Björklund (as Barbelle) does makes his appearance on MEMENTO. Toronto’s own, TR/ST guests on penultimate track, HARVEST. The gently-percussive FOLD closes the album likely making you want to start listening from the beginning again.