My first impression of John-Robert was a lovely little video that floated over my socials back in September of 2022. It was just the artist with messy hair and ornamented gummy bear charms across his neck, a loose-fitting shirt that hung lower. Between his arms, sat on his lap, was a black guitar that plucked out a lovely delicate tune, matched with an enchanting voice that delivered honest words. All this sat beneath the leaves of surrounding leaves and trees. It was a lovely encapsulation of a feeling I’d go back to watch occasionally over some months, so when I learned that the full EP, Garden Snake had just released earlier this month, I returned for a listen and was met with a lovely collection of gems that continued to lure me in through the track list.
Kicking off this collection is the song that appeared in the initial video I saw, Come Pick Me Up. When first listening, I was excited to hear that the production had not taken away the feeling of safety and honesty that I was met with when just sung by a boy and his guitar. No, instead that feeling was reiterated to me. It really is a lovely tune with a beautiful melody that lodges into your head and rattles around the rest of your day. John-Robert’s voice is the same, an almost intoxicating mix of raspy tones and undulating notes, akin to a siren luring you into the woods instead of the sea. Maybe it’s the Shenandoah roots and folky feel of the way he plucks the strings, but the beginning of the journey that he calls Garden Snake is a warm welcome to his homey and inviting feel before really telling you what’s going on inside his head. Like a warm friend who can make you feel at ease enough to lower your guard and open your heart, we are his friend, his music is our greeting, and John-Robert is our vessel for emotion.
The next track, Sweet Child, leans more poppy with a sharper guitar and a more produced feel. Again, we are treated to a sweet song laced with yearning. There’s just something about his lyricism that causes lines to grab and hold onto you while others continue to flow on. One of these being, “still I search for you in every person I meet, but they’re just a fraction when you’re built so complete.” Ain’t it beautiful how the sweet melody can carry such piercing feelings in a loving way. Compounding this with John-Robert’s voice becoming almost manic towards the song’s ending, mixing between screaming the lyrics and giggling with their delivery, he manages to embody every feeling of a love moved on with just the repetition of a couple lyrics. As a listener I know his heartbreak as I know my own, the feeling of wanting so badly to hold onto a person whose out of your grip for good, and yet, the song feels less like a somber ballad, and more like your friends joining you in your misery and carrying you out together after a night you won’t remember the next morning.
Road Trip gives us a seat in the back of the car with John-Robert at the wheel, taking us along the wild ride of fleeing a past relationship. Here we’re given an airy beat that very much feels like a bedroom pop daydream. It’s the breezy feel of wind on your face and being out in nature surrounded by growth and warmth, but he really enjoys the juxtaposition of his lyrics with his music. I swear it’s like he wants me to be kicking my feet in the air while I also throw my fists up clenched tightly. Singing about confessing your love to no answer or wanting so badly to hear a lie from someone just so you can hear them say what you want, all while doing so over such a groovy beat, you’re diabolical John-Robert.
Coming up on our second to last track, Westward Bound, it is here where we return to what I believe the strongest notes of the album to be. John-Robert is talented and boy does he pull off a pop sound, but there’s something about his voice that just mixes so heavenly with a more folky feeling song. Melodies that he plucks out of his strings and the versatile flexibility of his voice and now on a song where you’re adding orchestral strings and harmonizing humming, it immediately cradles you in the Appalachian embrace of the Southeastern states. Flowing fields of green under open skies and big puffy clouds passing you overhead accompany your butterfly filled stomach. Maybe a bit ironic, but Westward Bound just feels like John-Robert is coming back home and doing what he knows best. The layers baked into the song are absolutely gorgeous, specifically the way he utilizes his own harmony to really lull the listener through the beauty of his mind while he reminisces on the routine he completes to prepare for a visitor who will never show up. It’s honest, it’s heartbreaking, and it’s incredible. It feels very reminiscent of musicians like Noah Kahan, The Oh Hellos, and The Paper Kites.
Capping the album is Good Days’ll Come, a sweet sendoff after experiencing a corner of life with your new buddy John-Robert. It leaves the listener with a bit of hope in light of all the harder topics on the album before it. It’s like he’s saying to us, “Yeah life can be hard, but so what? Life will turn around and you’ll forget all about this hard stuff. Keep your head up, kid.” He may be saying it to you just as much as he is to himself, but that only makes me believe him more. It’s a great ending track that drives the album home with a bit of a simpler serenade, but just as strong as each prior track.
In the short fifteen minutes that is Garden Snake, John-Robert is able to bring us from his home in Virginia all the way out west to LA and back. Together we experienced heartbreak, the void that’s left on half the bed when they leave, and the acceptance that it’ll stay there but life will go on. It’s a lovely little twisting path that I got to walk down and hope you do too. The standout moments for me were definitely Westward Bound followed closely by Come Pick Me Up, but there is a lot to enjoy on each track that demands a listen for yourself.
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