Listening to Johan “HNNY” Cederberg's first full-length album Sunday is a cathartic glimpse at vignettes from the Swedish producer’s life as a whole. Capturing memories in his arrangements, the album is broken down into lazy, hazy downtempo days with loves and lovers strewn across adolescence and adulthood. It brings us to a place we can all come together and smile at, because we've all had those days in some simpleness or another -- the feel of fresh grass on running feet, playing under the shade of your backyard tree, the smell and feel of a crisp newspaper as you fold it over weekend breakfasts, the window we've looked out from on pillowy days, soaking in soft sunlight with someone that enjoys the rustling trees and buzz of the day as much as you. There are nostalgic bursts of memory cues buried in the tunes and croons orchestrally crafted by this genuine-souled producer. I often found myself drifting off to a comforting time and place while feeling completely content where I lay.
The old soul vibe of HNNY’s influences is apparent in the crackling vinyl and jazzy hymnal samplings of the album’s early tracks. His single "Cheer Up, My Brother" broke through the clouds a few months ago, my first introduction to the artist and the reason I had to hear more. Borrowing the hopeful sample of gospel classic "Farther Along," HNNY adorns it with a flower behind its ear and a fresh step to the beat making the day a playground for wandering without wondering. We get a sense here that HNNY is distancing himself from any modern ideas of house music, infusing it instead with a jazzy downtempo sound.
This zipping track is built up to its refreshing ability by the title track and intro song "Sunday," a lovebird's croon that any generation might find a happy memory and step to. We are welcomed to the album with the bell that rings upon entering a no frills mom ‘n pop shop on a bustling small town street. As we step into another era, the quartet of Motown sirens sings of a dreamy week’s worth of loving encounters, swinging us in the lively charm alongside the smooth string section. It's as if we were listening to a mix of HNNY’s favorite throwback influences, but this is just the old soul producer putting us in a laid back groove that lasts the entire album.
Where are these sounds coming from? How does he compose instrumentals and samples in such a seemingly natural way? A great producer pulls in the sounds that are familiar to him or that remind him of something that he can translate and give his songs a personal touch. HNNY takes it a step further. He shows us what that an excellent mixer is the key to combining all these things and “You Feel Alright” is his chance to take us to school. The instructor on the vocals breaks down the craft of audio mixing and layering of instruments over a funky, fresh-to-death scat and beat. It’s like listening to a beat cooking show, and the end dish is delicious and never before tasted by the ears. HNNY is a real composer, and he conducts an orchestra of “lagom” grooves with Sunday.
The three tracks that follow are the freest to wander through and take a break in the R&B, jazzy style for more chilled out dreamy synth-scapes. They don’t necessarily have a story but might have intentions to take you out and make some of their own. I found myself traveling outside, through lush landscapes and small wonders that can be perfectly complemented by HNNY’s sweet sounds. The song “Memory Tapes One” primarily takes you by the hand and leads you somewhere uncut, creating detours to the path that HNNY has set us on, and it gives the whole album a wanderlust feel. Explore where you came from and explore what’s out there, both are so important in understanding what makes a Johan a HNNY.
One of the fascinating effects that HNNY strung throughout Sunday is the sound of a child’s voice. It’s as if his home movies are playing in the background and it grounds the entire piece with that innocence. His interlude “Memory Tapes Two” actually takes it back with the distant echoing reverb overlaid on the child’s noises, making it seem like we’re standing there with the Ghost of HNNY Past viewing his childhood playing in the yard with the family. It's a gorgeous lullaby feeling, and these scattered interludes delicately give structure to the whole album.
There is always a beach in all our lives -- the one we grew up on spending lazy weekends with our family who watched us run away from the waves and search for starfish along the rocky inlets. “Eagles House” reminds me of the lifeguard that always stood watch over us all, year after year. Behind those Ray Bans he saw all of us grow up, some of us bringing our own families eventually. I think this is where HNNY takes the cycle back around from the past to the present and maybe even what to look forward to. We all have our homes, we all have our memories, we all have our idea of family and simple sacred places within the grand picture. The closing track “My Baby” is all of the people that we cared for and cared for us, and a wholesome and hopeful send off from HNNY. The simple guitar chords and percussive palette drive us along the sun-kissed coastline leaving us to reflect on what makes us remember those simple Sundays so peacefully and correctly.