Jack Johnson’s new album, From Here To Now To You, opens with whistling so carefree listeners can practically see him strolling down a Hawaiian beach and facing the tough choice of the day: “To surf or not to surf?”
That’s pretty nearly the truth. In an interview with Time, Johnson—who makes his home on the North Shore of Oahu—admitted, “We do take a lot of surf breaks.” Listeners could be insanely jealous except that Johnson has a way of transporting them there with him, smelling the sea and feeling the breeze.
The new album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart—Johnson’s fourth to do so—and as usual, his music remains the very definition of mellow. Hypnotic guitar strumming and gentle vocals prove a soothing sonic balm for frenzied living.
In an interesting twist, he turns his keen powers of observation on his wife, children, and other aspects of the domestic life. Johnson married his college sweetheart and they have three children together. In “Never Fade Away,” he reflects on the maturity gained during his 20-year relationship with wife Kim and quips, “So it came to be that I raised you and you raised me.”
The danceable funk and playful reverberation in the song “Radiate”—for his middle son—captures the creativity of young children at play: “You walk into the world you make/you lose yourself but you find your way … I’m going to watch you radiate.”
Yet the best of his kid-themed songs is the one for his little girl, “You Remind Me Of You.” Johnson considers that “Your momma made you pretty and your momma made you sweet/but your daddy gave you daydreams and more cushion in your seat.” He also wryly affirms gender distinctions, singing “Momma made a clone/so she won’t be alone/when the boys and me are getting so out of control.”
Throughout the album, Johnson’s music goes down easy, though there may be a bit of heartburn as his underlying philosophy comes clear. In “Ones and Zeros” Johnson at first wonders, “Is there somebody with a perfect plan … ” but he quickly dismisses the “gods of old who clap and make thunder.” He refers to past “sins,” but soon it’s clear that Johnson—a vegetarian and environmental activist—is talking about eating meat and driving cars: “A lot of people like to have a feast, not so many can stomach the killing/Lots of traffic on the streets so who’s really doing all the drilling.”
Johnson himself is doing all he can to eradicate his “sins.” His new solar-powered home is built from wood salvaged from a neighbor’s home and it generates enough excess electricity to power his electric car. He’s especially proud they “don’t have a sewer line,” according to an interview with the U.K.’s Telegraph. Instead, the family waste is turned into grey water to nurture the garden. So as far as environmental sins, he has almost atoned. As far as any moral debt incurred before a holy Creator, he doesn’t offer any solutions.