No less than sixty faces stare back at you from the cover of tireless local mainstay OK Vancouver OK’s Food. Shelter. Water., a lo-fi hymn of social change and sleepy introspection that, stripped of its instrumental embellishments, reads like an urban Gary Snyder for our times. His charming renditions of escaping to the wilderness, blended with overtones of anti-capitalism shine through in the outspoken yet optimistic conviction of his songwriting. But don’t expect the usual one man and a 4-track affair you’ve come to love Jeff Johnson for on his tenth release.
Drummer Laura House and bassist Liza Moser were enlisted to help Johnson record the album with K Records’ Eli Moore on Whidbey Island. It’s an evolution that results in ten songs riddled with emancipated moral convictions that, as the title alludes to, focus on the essentials: fresh healthy food, a place to call home, and unrestricted access to clean water. An outspoken collection of ideas your parents would have blown off as childish fantasies before telling you “It’s time to grow up,” Food. Shelter. Water. is a reminder of what’s truly important.
Thematically, Johnson hasn’t wavered from a stripped-bare no-wave aesthetic that easily jumps from the eco-friendly refrains of “I Want Children to Swim in A River They Can Drink From” to the playful sing-along “Snowman in The Sun.” Words are used sparingly throughout the album and are rarely eloquent when they come to the forefront. Instead their power comes from the negative lyrical space that highlights their poignancy. Lines like, “In my mind I’m going mad / Still get black out even though I’m happier now / What else to do but keep the planet clean / Food growing all around,” from the reflective “At Home in The Garden,” are sung with such ease that the album’s wide selection of topics become digestible. Johnson’s determination to live by his beliefs give his songwriting integrity and authenticity, which along with Food. Shelter. Water.’s increased production quality, has resulted in his most accessible effort to date.