Johnnie Mikel “Purgatory’ (LP)

Thrusting itself from the speakers like a wild animal that has just been uncaged, the deluge of guitar melodicism that we find in the first few important peaks of Johnnie Mikel’s “Vulnerability” is undeniably some of the most exciting of any found on his new LP Purgatory. In this strikingly strong studio offering, Mikel combines brooding pastoral poetry with fiery guitar pop of the most flexible strain. Rather than relying on aesthetical foundations and predictable pop hooks as a means of colorizing his lyrics in this record, he uses poetry as a framework for his instrumentation, with the resulting cocktail of texture and tonality sounding accessible to fans of all backgrounds and tastes in alternative rock music


While I haven’t been able to say this about the vast majority of the content I’ve been listening to in the last couple of months, there isn’t any filler to be pointed out and broken down in Purgatory. Songs like “Nothing to Lose” and the title track have next to nothing in common with the vapid pseudo-indie rock charting well this year, and in all actuality, they flout the structural integrity of that material without Mikel having meant for them to. He’s a unique songwriter, and his multifaceted composing instantly distinguishes his work from that of the competition.

The vocal that Johnnie Mikel brings to the studio with him in Purgatory is always the most sterling component within the master mix of “I’m Not the Man” “Fallen Angel” and “Anyone But Me,” and personally, I think this was a deliberate move on the part of producers. He wields a tonal expressiveness when he sings that a lot of crooners would kill to have at their disposal, but even at his most swaggering, I think it’s worth noting just how unarrogant he sounds in the big picture here.

Purgatory features one of the best and most eclectic mixtures of pop numbers and brooding lyrical content as we get into its second act, and though he’s clearly a pop musician in all of the ways that count for something, I wouldn’t be quick to pigeonhole Johnnie Mikel’s sound at all. Other than his having a knack for pulling even the most angular of melodic elements together in a pop harmony, there’s nothing predictable about this young man’s style of play. He’s still got some room for growth, but this record shows me that he has an immense capacity for creative output in general.


Full-length releases are never very easy to create, produce, or promote, but in the case of Johnnie Mikel’s phenomenal Purgatory LP, this is one singer/songwriter that makes all of the work seem rather effortless. Mikel has a talent and an honest star quality that can’t be contained within the four walls of a recording studio for much longer, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do on stage. If even a fraction of the energy he brings to this album translates into a live performance, his will be a tough moniker to avoid in the years still ahead.

Mark Druery


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