JONNY POLONSKY – Album Review: “Power and Greed and Money and Sex and Death”

This past April, I wrote a feature article about Brooklyn-based artist Jonny Polonsky, along with a review of his marvelous album Kingdom of Sleep, which you can read here. An accomplished singer-songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist, he’s been actively involved in the music industry for over a quarter century, both as a solo artist and as a session musician and/or member of a number of bands, including Big Nose (with Audioslave/Rage Against the Machine drummer Brad Wilk and bassist Tim Commerford) and Puscifer. On November 13, Jonny returned with his eighth album Power and Greed and Money and Sex and Death, featuring eight songs touching on the good, the bad and the ugly of this thing called life. He wrote, arranged, recorded, produced and engineered the album at home during the pandemic lockdown in Spring and Summer 2020. Mixing was done by Mike Tholen and mastering by Dave Collins. 

Jonny Polonsky3

The album kicks off with “Electric Tears“, a foot-stomping psychedelic rocker that seems to touch on the vow “til death do us part”. With lyrics like “To the sound of thunder we’re torn asunder / O, Dulcinea! So sweet the vulture / The main offender, the plane descender / We fall together and live forever!“, I’m guessing the two lovers are about to perish in a plane crash, confirming their love for each other. On the timely and topical “In Between Worlds“, Jonny lobs a scathing attack on racism and bigotry, and those afraid or unable to accept that America continues to evolve, both socially and demographically: “I think your thinking is deranged / I see the sadness in your soul /Morbid, bent /And strange how you still fail to see that these changing times are not your enemy.” In the terrific video, he plays both a TV newsman reporting the news and a musician performing the song on a television show stage, accompanied by footage of street protests and a defeated-looking Trump. Musically, the song has an urgent, piano-driven melody, with gnarly guitars, organ and dark synths. The piano work is especially good here.

Imitation Life” is a lively power pop gem, with a strong driving beat and wonderful jangly guitars that give the song a retro 60s sound. Jonny admonishes another to let go of phoniness and superficiality, and live her truth: “Sad eyes, you shouldn’t waste your time / Realize, this is no imitation life. You’re alive.” One of my favorite tracks on the album is “Summer Soldiers“, a melodic tune featuring lovely vocals by singer-songwriter and former member of the Go-Go’s Jane Wiedlin. The song’s uplifting lyrics seem to be telling us not to let others define us, nor keep us from living our full potential: “Don’t let ’em lay you down and roll you out / And when you’re alone and don’t know who to trust / Tempted to self destruct / Discarded and left to rust.” The song starts off with a brief snippet of Little Richard’s hysterical laughter, then settles into a pleasing mid-tempo beat, with enchanting spacy synths, shimmery keyboards and crisp percussion. I really like how Jonny and Jane’s vocals are in perfect harmony.

On the brooding “Under Your Spell“, Jonny uses sweeping industrial synths and beautiful distorted guitars to create a haunting cinematic soundscape that gives the song a bit of a David Bowie vibe. He has an unusual vocal style that’s both raspy and breathy, which he uses to great effect on this track. The lyrics speak to him having fallen for someone who seems to be emotionally unavailable, insecure and afraid of revealing their true self:  “How’d you end up on the inside? How do you know me so well? With your eyes on fire and your coat made of eagle, now I’m under your spell.” Another standout track for me is “Completely Surrounded by Love“, with its gorgeous blend of twangy and jangly guitars that give the song a folk-rock feel. The song seems to be a thank you to someone who helped him overcome his personal demons through their love and devotion: “I was afraid, so afraid of my own mind / I believed in you / I couldn’t think for my own self / But I know I am completely surrounded by love.

Jonny saves the best for last with the stunning and bittersweet “Where the Sunset Sets“. Starting with an achingly beautiful melody, he layers shimmery keyboards, chiming guitars and airy synths to create a breathtaking atmospheric soundscape. His vocals are deeply heartfelt as he sings to someone who seems to be slipping away, possibly from dementia or even on the verge of their death: “And everything that had binded me to you, just leaves you sad and confounded / What once had been a folie a deux, is just a memory you detest. Your name, it doesn’t matter / Your face, you will soon forget / Our eyes, beaming into one another / Leave a trace in anyone you’ve ever met .” The seven-minute-long song has an epic and cinematic quality, and is my favorite track on the album.

Power and Greed and Money and Sex and Death is a wonderful album that gets better with each listen. I like how Jonny keeps things sounding fresh and varied by using different music styles, tempos and sounds on each track, and as always, the production values and arrangements are first-rate.

Jonny will be releasing a deluxe 12-inch vinyl version of the album, pressed on transparent red vinyl, with a full color cover and lyric insert with photos, and including a 16.5″x23″ fold out poster and free digital download card. Purchase of this deluxe album includes unlimited streaming of Power and Greed and Money and Sex and Death via the free Bandcamp app, plus high-quality download in MP3, FLAC and more. Shipping is anticipated on or around February 1, 2021.

Connect with Jonny: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music: Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  BandcampAmazon

JONNY POLONSKY – Artist Spotlight and Album Review: “Kingdom of Sleep”

Jonny Polonsky

Singer-songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist Jonny Polonsky has been actively involved in the music industry for over a quarter century, both as a solo artist and as a session musician and member of several bands, however he’s never become a household name. He grew up in the north Chicago suburb of Wilmette, Illinois, where he started playing music before he was ten, and performed in his high school orchestra and jazz band. As a precocious teen, he began writing songs and recording them on homemade cassettes, handing them out to friends and using them as an excuse to go backstage and meet some of the musicians he admired.

One of them was Reeves Gabrels, who was a guitarist for David Bowie and now with The Cure. Gabrels in turn introduced Jonny to Frank Black/Black Francis of the band Pixies, who ended up producing his first demo. That demo resulted in famed record producer Rick Rubin signing Polonsky to his record label American Recordings. Here’s the demo for “In My Mind”, which was later used in 2012 for episode five of the first season of the HBO series Girls.

The demos were eventually released, however, Polonsky re-recorded the songs himself using digital home recording equipment, and self-produced what would become his debut album Hi My Name is Jonny. The album, released by American Recordings in January 1996, showcased his strong songwriting, singing and musicianship, and received critical acclaim from numerous international news outlets including The New York Times and MTV.

Following the record’s release, Polonsky and his live band supported Frank Black on his North American tour, and also played the Second Stage of the 1996 Lollapalooza summer tour. He spent the next several years touring with other acts like Pete Yorn, and working as a session musician for such acts as Donovan. In 2001 he released an EP There is Something Wrong With You, and a year later moved to Los Angeles, where his connection with Rick Rubin led to work as a session musician on albums by Minnie Driver, Neil Diamond, Dixie Chicks and Johnny Cash, among others. In 2004 he released his second album The Power of Sound, and in the spring of 2005 he and his band opened for Audioslave on their North American club tour.

Serendipity and the power of networking paid off once again for Polonsky, as this time his touring experience with Audioslave led to him becoming part of the short-lived band Big Nose with Audioslave/Rage Against the Machine drummer Brad Wilk and bassist Tim Commerford. Big Nose collaborated on two songs with Tool and A Perfect Circle frontman Maynard James Keenan. who used those songs for his music/art project Puscifer. That resulted in Polonsky having a collaborative relationship with Puscifer lasting from 2007 to 2010, during which time he also toured with the band as their guitarist.

Eight years would pass before Polonsky would release another solo album, and in 2012 he dropped his third LP Intergalactic Messenger of Divine Light and Love, a fine work that saw him experiment with more psychedelic and alt rock elements. On his 2015 album The Other Side of Midnight, his music continued to evolve into a darker, more atmospheric sound with greater used of synthesizers and programmed drums, all self-recorded on his laptop. Also, his singing style incorporated more falsetto and whispered vocals.

In 2018, he released his fifth album Fresh Flesh, a fascinating and eclectic work that fused alt rock with post-grunge, psychedelic and shoegaze elements. The album was recorded with his live band in two days at Rick Rubin’s Shangri La Studios in Malibu California, and features guest performances by vocalist Mark Lanegan (formerly of Screaming Trees and Queens of the Stone Age), and drummer Kevin Haskins of the band Bauhaus, (and formerly with Love and Rockets and Tones on Tail). The title track “Fresh Flesh” is particularly good, with trippy synths set to a haunting melody, and highlighted by a blistering guitar solo.

On March 6, Polonsky returned with his latest album Kingdom of Sleep, an eclectic collection of eight captivating songs. He delves deeper into dream pop and vapor wave territory here, while retaining some of his signature alt rock and psychedelic elements. It also sees him going full-circle, in a sense, as like Hi My Name is Jonny, Kingdom of Sleep was entirely self-recorded and produced at home. Polonsky moved to Brooklyn, New York in 2018, and no longer has his old band of musicians nearby to record an album with him.

In an interview with The Big Takeover webzine, he explained “I live in an apartment in Brooklyn, so I can’t make a lot of noise, and I’m not in a position where I can spend thousands of dollars in recording studios or in hiring musicians. So that also plays a large role in why I’ve been recording everything on my laptop and most of the drums are electronic. Plus it’s fun. I like these sounds. For this record, I felt like making really pretty, dreamy, beautiful and melodic music that painted a picture. I was listening to a lot of Cocteau Twins and Prince. And David Lynch is always an inspiration. I love his films, but his records are really great, too. They are strange, little worlds you can enter and feel like you are somewhere new, just like with his movies.

Johnny Polonsky Kingdom of Sleep

The album opens with “Ghost Like Soul“, a moody track with languid, psychedelic synths creating an appropriately spooky and mesmerizing atmospheric vibe. Polonsky’s breathy vocals alternate between an eerie, electronically altered monotone to an almost menacing whisper, while guest vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala (of the bands At the Drive-In and The Mars Volta) provides echoed spoken word vocals. The lyrics are cryptic and packed with meaning, and though I’m not sure, the lyrics seem to speak to changing societal and cultural mores, and how those in power use communication and propaganda to influence our thinking: “Seasons change and people get strange / In the courtroom of your mouth, you put all tongues on trial.”

Polonsky changes things up on “Sign in the Window“, a lovely song with a bouncy, driving beat and soaring melody that reminds me a bit of Future Islands’ “Seasons (Waiting On You)”. The smooth synths and gently strummed guitar provide an enchanting backdrop for his breathy vocals as he sings of his love and desire “All I want is for you to be real / And let me heal inside your light.”

On the wonderful Beatle-esque “The Weeping Souls“, he uses lush sweeping strings, keyboards and flute, combined with an exuberant mix of chiming and jangly guitars, and layers them over deep, rolling percussion to create an exhilarating and colorful soundscape. Polonsky fervently sings the rather explicit lyrics: “We live inside of a dream / If you let me in I’ll protect your heart / Turn lead to gold / I live inside of your thighs / Just to make you cum / And avert your gaze from the weeping souls.” It’s one of the standout tracks on the album.

Another favorite is “No Tears“, an achingly beautiful dream pop song with drop-dead gorgeous chiming guitars and magical synths. Polonsky’s breathy croons are positively sublime as he laments of a love that is no more: “Oh what more can you say? / After you cry yourself to sleep / And there are no tears left to weep.” “Take Me Home” has a rich cinematic feel, with dark, pulsating synths, twangy guitar and harmonica giving the song a sweeping Sergio Leone Western vibe. On the sultry “You Turn Me On“, he leaves no room for doubt as to his carnal intentions as he seductively croons “You turn me on / Close the window, shut the blinds, leave your panties and your past behind.

Aenerone” is an enchanting, mostly instrumental track with sparkling ethereal synths accompanying a mesmerizing synth bass beat. The only lyrics are “You / Me / Us / We / All Of Us Are On our own.” “A Willing Eye” seems to speak to the incredible power of love, and opening oneself up in order to be able to love others, and accept love in return: “To realize you’re alive when you’re most vulnerable / Ooh you’re the only want I want /You lift me up above the fear/ To see with a willing eye is all it takes.” Polonsky’s soaring cinematic soundscape is a lush backdrop for his plaintive, breathy falsetto vocals. The song ends on a positive note with him reassuring us that “Love is the force that does surround you“.

It’s an uplifting and beautiful close to a really marvelous album. With Kingdom of Sleep, Jonny Polonsky continues his winning streak of delivering solid, well-crafted albums that reflect his ongoing desire to keep pushing himself into new musical realms. While reaching back to the past for classic stylistic elements, he simultaneously manages to create music that’s fresh, cutting-edge, and always a pleasure to hear.

Connect with Jonny: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music: SpotifySoundcloudApple Music
Purchase:  BandcampGoogle PlayAmazon