Album Of The Week: Lontalius - 'I'll Forget 17'

Written By Sam Murphy on 04/04/2016


Most of us vaguely remember 17. It's the age where we're first faced with the pros and cons of independence, where we discover there's more to our personality than simply fitting with the status quo and where we feel the damning weight of balancing emotion. While we remember it, vividly reforming those emotions in some sort of art would be near impossible.

Kiwi artist Eddie Johnston, making music under the moniker of Lontalius, is only 18 and constructed a lot of his debut album I'll Forget 17, while he was 17. It seems like an impossible task to recognise the importance of the emotions you're feeling at 17 and document them, but Lontalius has and as such this record is as heavy-hearted as they come, coated in swelling emotion and fresh nostalgia.

For those that have tracked the career-trajectory of Lontalius, from his R&B covers of Ciara and Drake to his work with Ryan Hemsworth, this might not be the debut you were expecting. It's essentially a singer/songwriter, indie-rock record full of guitars and sweeping soundscapes telling vivid stories. Instead of heavily relying on his R&B influences that he conjured over the internet in his late teens, he's reached towards the more alternative music memories of his early teens. That's not to say I'll Forget 17 should be grouped with bands like Neutral Milk Hotel or My Morning Jacket. Instead, he's taken the auto-tuned fragility of Kanye West's 808s and Heartbreaks, the sadboy production of Ryan Hemsworth and the honest and straightforward songwriting of Sufjan Stevens, mixing it with organic instrumentation - the type that flooded the alternative world before Ableton gave birth to a new generation of bedroom producers.

"A feeling so sweet but then it goes, and then it goes, and then it goes away," Johnston sings on the record's opening track A Feeling So Sweet. From there we're instantly thrown into a world of nostalgia, some good and some bad, some about love and some about friendship. This is one of the album's more electronic-leaning tracks but it aptly introduces warmth into the mix, something that the album retains no matter how sad it gets.

"All I have to offer is my love, it's not enough," he offers on All I Wanna Say, a devastating statement that's eased by mellow synths and guiding vocals. Johnston's lyrics are simple and poignant, much like the instrumentals, and instead of giving us something heart-wrenching he's made it comfortable. Realising your love isn't enough is tough but further into the album he laments on It's Not Love, "It sinks into your head hell it hurts but its not love". One of the hardest parts of growing up is recognising the strong emotions that adolescence throws at you but also realising what you're actually feeling. Lontalius recounts it so beautifully on I'll Forget 17, to the point where it's easy to relive those same feelings while listening. Still, those feelings pass and as he sings on Glow, "it's easy to forget how much you made me feel".

The simplicity of this album is what makes it particularly powerful. On Sefless, he simply sings the same three lines repeatedly but he does so amongst a soundscape of waltzing keys and mournful synths. Even if you don't invest the time into exploring the lyrics, the heart of the record comes through sonically on nearly every song. He does it again on album closer Yr Heart Is Beating, using few words to conjure a feeling of optimism. Light guitar strums simply lead us into a delicate climax that closes the album at its warmest point. This kind of optimism forgives the album's moments of melodrama reminding us that Lontalius knows everything will be ok in the end.

Lontalius recognises that the events that occurred when he was 17 might be things he won't care about in year to come but that's not the point of this album. It's about capturing an intensely emotional period of time while still remembering that this too shall pass. On a wider scale, it reminds people of any age that time heals most things. Being 17 is tough but if you come out of it with a heightened understanding of who you are, then all the pain is worth it. I'll Forget 17 is a personal time capsule that will remind Johnston of his most formative year and while he may find the stories silly in years to come, it will always be a special recount of emotions that will never feel as strong as when he was 17.