‘There’s chance, there’s choice and there’s alignment – what forces in the universe do I choose to align myself with?’ Johanna Warren’s reason for referencing Dungeons & Dragons in the title of her fifth record ‘Chaotic Good’ captures the way she considers her life to be part of ‘one big role-playing game’. It finds her jumping into a fuller, more ambitious sound yet still retaining the searing honesty in her words.
The album opens with the sparse acoustic strums of ‘Rose Portion’ as Johanna discusses the way ‘the dead walk behind me though I do not recognise their faces’ and talks about drinking potion made from the roses in her garden and other spiritual stylings: ‘What you call God I call the mysteries of the universe’. This is followed by the pacy drumbeats of ‘Part of It’ – a song that finds Johanna rallying against the way she has been treated by a former partner: ‘I know you don’t have time to give me the time of day so give me the reason why you like it when I chase after you’. She also opens up about the effect this had on her own well-being (‘I’ll have a cigarette even though I’ve quit’) before taking a proactive approach and asking this man ‘What are you gonna do when you’re 64 and there is no one to tell you how amazing you are?’
The dreamy piano of ‘Only the Truth’ and stop-start Tori Amos-esque stylings wrap themselves around the darkly poetic words about ‘romance’: ‘The wound in me picked out the knife in you’; ‘The sacred well of pain that I have returned to again and again’. ‘Bed of Nails’ is more of a folk song with an organic feel and poignant, personal self-observations (‘I’m living in my fantasy, it’s easier than being me’) and there’s a defiant tone in Johanna’s voice – and later falsetto/passionate screams – throughout Twisted: ‘I tried to warn you. I know it’s my battle but I’m a warrior and I can’t help it. Can’t you see how much I adore you?’ ‘Hole in the Wall’ is altogether quieter yet still with some cutting words – ‘Hell is a state of mind and I can’t be held accountable for your demise’ – while ‘Faking Amnesia’ continues this period of self-reflection before bursting into a full-band sound: ‘Take a look around, there’s blood in the water’; ‘The love for my captor is all I’ll take with me. He tells me I am shit and I have come to depend upon it’.
Johanna starts looking out for herself and leaving this wicked man’s ways behind on ‘Every Death’ but it’s not as easy as she was hoping as the scars reappear when she finds another suitor: ‘I wanted to warn you, say I’m carrying some trauma’; ‘You kind of look like him, you’ve got the same way of looking at me like you own me and I used to like that I guess but not anymore. Now it makes me feel like I am drowning’. The penultimate ‘Thru Yr Teeth’ has more of an alt-country sound as Johanna looks ahead – and away – from the man who ‘filled my head with fantasies, filled me with rage’: ‘I’ve been beating myself up for so long I forgot what it takes to have an identity beyond my mistakes’.
The final ‘Bones OF Abandoned Futures’ is a piano ballad filled with stirring strings and full-hearted emotion as Johanna decides to kill off the idea of a dream relationship that never came true (‘I wish to no longer be bound to you’) and then proudly declares: ‘Expel from my body the putrid mess inside me and call back my magic to me’.
A defiant and deeply touching album about moving on and away from terrible times, Johanna Warren’s ‘Chaotic Good’ is poignant, powerful and pretty much perfect.