Christian Berishaj is an Albanian/American producer/singer-songwriter who releases juicy R&B jams under the name JMSN (pronounced like the whiskey). On May 6th 2016, he released It Is. His third audio album. I first heard JMSN when he featured in Ta-ku’s ‘Love Again’, and what a tune that was. Even though I didn’t know it at the time, he also featured heavily on Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City. I think I intended on checking out some more of his work but never got around to it. Man, I’m regretting that now.
To best convey how I felt about It Is. I need to separate it into three parts:
1. The Sound
If I had one word to best describe the production of this album, it would have to be crisp. There’s nothing too crazy going on with the instrumentation, which is actually quite refreshing. It’s straightforward sounding, but as D’Angelo showed us all recently on his similar sounding album, when its delivered so well, in no way will that ever sound dated or irrelevant. Every song features a bunch of different players to fill in the gaps, but the crux (Vocals, guitar, Rhodes etc) is all JMSN, he’s a freak of a player. His voice is a winner, it’s reminiscent of a beaten up, ballsier Justin Timberlake. But it’s the honesty of the voice which gets me, it’s not a super polished X Factor/Pitch Perfect type, its just-a-dude-singing-his-feelings type, the way it should be. Honesty is something that translates through the rest of the album as well. The album covers a broad spectrum, while remaining crisp, it also has some vintage flavours to it, with some elements (especially vocally) sounding very spur-of-the-moment
2. The Songs
There’s a fair bit of scope in the 13 songs that make up It Is. There’s some R&B jams, there’s some rap breaks, there’s some gospel-esque vocals, there’s slow moments and some more aggressive ones. But it’s all very cohesive, it makes sense on a full listen. Hell, there’s even a key change towards the end of ‘Funk Outta Here’, not enough key changes in modern music I say. It sounds like he’s refined his craft over the years, the writing sounds self-assured and mature. Less verse to chorus and more just free form, free flowing pieces of music. I found myself head-bopping so many times to these tunes, they’re drenched with an infectious laid-back groove and left with so much space, perfect example of this is ‘Most of All’. Try and sit still to that song, I dare you. There’s some intelligence to the songwriting, most of them are more than just four chord love ballads and I whole-heartedly believe that albums like this should be held in high regard, it ticks all the boxes of a great artist and great music.
3. The Ideas
He’s taken a leaf from Kendrick’s book and included a reasonable amount of spoken word and dialogue excerpts that really break up the album, draw your ears elsewhere and add variety to the album. This includes an interlude titled ‘Juice’, which sounds like JMSN being approached by a label executive and being talked at about money, taking control of his sound and just generally being talked down to. Perhaps an anecdote? All these little bits and pieces left in the album really add the rawness and authenticity of it, while keeping it personal and unique.
Here’s my top three moments from It Is.
3. Sax solo from ‘Funk Outta Here’
2. The groove in most of the tracks, it just really does it for me. I can’t sit still, something has to move.
1. ‘Cruel Intentions’, in my eyes, the best song on the album.
Pick up a copy of It Is now via White Room Records.