By: Tommy Walzer
If I had to pin the main influence that their sound draws from, I’d say the operatic breakdown in “Bohemian Rhapsody,” but with ADHD. Math rock tempos, happy-go-lucky harmonies, and tender lyrics are all elements that Johnny Foreigner incorporate into their music. The foreigners from Birmingham, UK, have put out five albums and nine EP’s since 2005, and I must say each one is just as magically supercharged as the next.
Guitarists Alexei Barrow and Lewes Herriot lead the rollercoaster ride alongside bassist Kelly Southern and drummer Junior Elvis Washington Laidely. Like many fast-paced math rock acts, the drums follow the start/stop rhythms of the strings, but Laidley adds his own punk rock energy to the mix wherever there’s room. Barrow and Southern will often exchange vocal roles and yell together with all their heart (on a side note, Barrow sounds oddly similar Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke). The male/female interplay between the two makes the music all the more colorful. One of my favorite displays of this is on “With Who, Who and What I’ve Got,” which is probably one of their most fun songs as well.
No matter how chaotic the music gets, there remains a certain intimacy upheld by playfully straightforward emotions. Amidst a sonic tempest on “If I’m the Most Famous Boy You’ve Fucked, Then You’re in Trouble,” Barrow pleads: “I wanna be sat in parks with girls with sunglasses and cocktails / I want the casual confidence that grows through knowing your own streets.” Johnny Foreigner’s lyrics aren’t all wishful thinking though. “200x” is modest both musically and lyrically, and features Herriot on vocals as he sings: “I’m not done with this / I’m not giving in / I’m not giving up on you / we just got older.” Not so coincidentally, the three aforementioned songs are all from 2011’s Johnny Foreigner vs. Everything, which is my personal favorite album of theirs and an excellent starting point for new listeners. However, don’t sleep on their newest LP, 2014’s You Can Do Better. Tracks like “Shipping” and “Le Schwing” are some of their most ecstatic. The album is quite consistent with their others, and usually that comes off as a bad thing. But when you’re as relentlessly danceable, headbang-able, and sing-along-able as Johnny Foreigner are on everything they’ve put out, familiarity is key when giving them a listen—these foreigners will always make you feel right at home.
Tommy is a junior from Highland Park, IL. He is currently studying communications, and hopes to one day turn his musically dictated life into a productive career. He believes that he can play drums and freestyle rap quite well, and can be seen performing in your friend’s basement on weekends. He sheds a tear every time he puts on his Joan Baez vinyl, and is currently searching for a friend he can discuss black metal with.