September 9, 2016

Featuring: Yohuna

Reflecting on Yohuna's journey to her debut album Patientness.

Under dark lingering guitar, Johanne Swanson cannons into her final song to answer the question: what is “patientness”? “Patience is patientness,” she offers, smoothly gliding her voice into the rest of the track. Yet, this transparency turns out to be an illusion as you move through the songwriter’s debut LP named after this concept, Patientness. The album is based on the idea of slowing down and finding confidence in the moment; however, the more Swanson reflects on herself throughout this record, the more she reveals and teaches us - not just about herself, but about love, loss and the feelings of longing and isolation we all deal with at one point or another.

This ability to reflect took time for Swanson; it's been over five years since her last release under the name Yohuna. The New York-based artist has teased singles here and there on a small number of compilations but it’s this break in time where Patientness finds its roots. Spending these years constantly moving, this time became both inspiring and lonely for the Wisconsin native. However, this time of uncertainty soon became a growing experience for Swanson. Compressing memories, losses, and moments of her life are strikingly evident in the pure denseness of the record. Through the hard-hitting and bluntly honest lines of “World Series” to the reflective poetic lines of “Badges,” Swanson explains, “It’s been my effort to take a hard look at myself, know my strengths and shortcomings, and be an observer.”

Yet, as personal as Patientness seems on its surface, Swanson’s struggles and experiences are intrinsically universal. Aware of this, her album is meticulously constructed, constantly flowing between secluded intimacy and extreme familiarity. On the second track, “The Moon Hangs In The Sky Like Nothing Hangs In The Sky,” Swanson’s lightly coos over the fuzz, “Like the space between you and me / Means nothing is right like nothing is right.” These feelings of loss and isolation are found in almost every song on the record as Swanson analyzes her struggle with these emotions. However, this focus was not purposeful: “It wasn’t a premeditated thought, ‘I’m going to write an album about loss'", she notes. "But I will say it’s not an isolated experience – I wrote these songs for myself, but they’re necessary to share for that reason – no one is alone in those feelings.” Through deconstructing and digging into her emotions, Swanson finds solace in Patientness not only in her own reflection but also in the commonality of her experiences, which carries her insight further with each listen. However, even with a complexity of emotions saturating every word and line, Swanson’s lyrics remain only a part of the sheer genius that is Patientness. By recruiting close friends like Adelyn Strei on guitar and teaming up with multi-instrumentalist Owen Pallett as a co-producer, Swanson fully realizes her sound on this record. Smoothly shifting from the slow wave-like synths of “Lake” to the robotic repetitive beats of “Creep Date” the album never flattens or dulls. A constant layer of white fuzz softly lies over each track, never drowning out Swanson, but actually granting her control as her voice shines in and out to guide each piece.

The fluidity of Patientness is outstanding, but the true brilliance of Swanson’s arranging appears halfway through as she seamlessly breaks her record in two with “Golden Foil.” At the album’s center, the track leaves the record at a standstill within its first few seconds. Painting its intro with lush chimes and bells, the instrumental never falls below the surface, constantly mixing and stirring with Swanson’s voice. Through these four minutes, Patientness gains its momentum. As soon as the track’s thick dream-like haze clears into “Apart,” the record begins to take off. Clearing out the cloudiness in her sound, the second half introduces a clarity not seen the beginning of the record. Clarity is evident in the album’s sound as it strips each track further and further bare, but also in Swanson’s voice and she powerfully breaks through each track.

Yet, underneath everything – the syrupy synths, the gentile guitar, the warm glow flowing from every note and riff – Patientness is about Swanson. It’s a personal meditation, cathartic at its core, growing out of Swanson’s life, her heartbreak, her isolation – a collection of her experiences which are so thoughtfully intertwined and compressed it’s not difficult to see the genius in this record. However, beginning this project was a challenge. As an ode to patience, a weakness she always found in herself, Swanson struggled to slow herself down. But continuing to work, Patientness became a way for Swanson to shape and reflect on her experiences. “Some songs are painful to write, to admit parts of myself or my experience that I’m not proud of," she said. "But I write them because I come out on the other side better with deeper understanding.”

Patientness became a five-year journey through herself, and in the end of this introspection, through battling all her shortcomings, Swanson teaches us something special: from our weakness grows strength. The ability to find that strength in our imperfections and deeply look within ourselves to come to terms with every part of us is difficult, and Swanson knows this. This album stands as a testament to this digging, and in the end she learned a lot not only about life in general, but also about herself. Months after recording and completing her album, Swanson returns to the question at the heart of her record: what is “patientness”? “More and more, I’m realizing it’s about growing up,” Swanson reveals, “Growing into your own hero, taking care of yourself, being vulnerable, hurting and loving fully.”


Listen to Yohuna on bandcamp.

Photo by Brian Vu


Amy Garlesky is a philosophy/political science student and freelance writer based in Cleveland, OH and Burlington, VT. Follow her ramblings on twitter @ayygarl.