"What a gift! Juha is a brilliant little genius. There is no one quite like him."
- Marc Almond
Juha starring in The Grooms of God
“I’ve become a three-headed gargoyle perched on the steps of Motown,” says Juha of his current incarnation. The Grooms of God, his latest release, is a concept album about men who move through the world as society’s outcasts: the madman, the runaway, the thief, and the whore, among others. It opens with a sample of Thich Nhat Hahn advising, "No discrimination against the garbage in favor of the rose" - a phrase which sums up its heart: that categories of saint and sinner are in the eye of the beholder. Musically, Juha's cocky raps still make appearances (most of which curiously reference his dick), but The Grooms of God leans more towards what he’s termed "Gothic Soul": harmony-rich vocals that dwell in minor keys. His trademark remains creating gospel choirs made up solely of himself, layering his voice upon his voice to form “little vocal armies of me.”
The Grooms of God features thirteen original songs, plus rewrites of work by Willie Dixon, Tchaikovsky, and Gwen “Ain’t Nothin Goin On But The Rent” Guthrie. In the process, Juha flirts with Middle Easter disco (“Akhar Virgin”), 80’s roller skating hip hop (“Dip Dip”), world fusion (the popular “Weasel”), and sounds pulled and fused from all over the globe. Themes range from the silly (- a Public Service Announcement for men about shaking thoroughly at the urinal to avoid dribble) to the cautionary (the a cappella “Can The Bengal Bend All Day,” a true tale of a man-eating tiger who stalks amidst humanity’s encroachment on nature) to the harrowing (“Paul In Swan Lake,” a personal reflection on the mid-90’s US AIDS Crisis set to a classical-electro beat).
Co-producer Th’ Mole says: “The Grooms of God speaks of a dark and painful past, but there is an almost gospel-like overtone of redemption and faith.” It is a mix of junkyard and treasure chest, a ruby rattling in a rusty beer can, arguing passionately for a sense of inner peace. And in the words of one critic: “It’s all that and a lot of bass.”
THE GROOMS OF GOD
Queer dub. Butlerian dancehall stomp. Bengal barbershop. Hybrid forms you didn't know were missing, didn't know were possible, a world music not of smash and grab or cut and paste but of warp and weft. Newly transplanted to London, needed like a fresh kidney, Juha brings his extravagantly gonzo take on hip hop to clubland, right NOW.
- Plan B Magazine | London
Take the soul of Prince, the mercurial energy of Eminem, the electro-noisiness of Xiu Xiu, and the Gothic complexity of The Arcade Fire… and you can start to imagine Juha's newest album, The Grooms of God. It's all that and a lot of bass.
It's a tightly-knit, complex, and highly analytic album with a roughness, honesty, and immediacy that makes it an essential listen. The generally hyper-sexual lyrics soar in both imagery and cadence, celebrating the sexual, the animalic, the ignoble, the transgressive…. While the tracks display a large diversity of talent on Juha's part, the choice of a Gothic aesthetic and the maintenance of it adds to the weight of the already heavy message…. Oh, and the soul! Far from cold and detached, Juha's roughness of voice and non-traditional vocal style make the often abstract message intimate and urgent.
The main strength of this album is the diversity of the tracks. "Akhar Virgin" is a funky, rough, and fast soul track with an engaging toy piano melody that makes the album worth its time in and of itself. "Weasel” mixes an Eastern beat into a Western idiom, with fast verses working into a slow and thoughtful chorus… "Ain't Nothin Goin On But The Rent" is a Gwen Guthrie cover whose bluesy beat, repeated keyboard loop high in the mix, and prostitution references make it sound like it was coming straight from Madonna's Erotica album. And "Paul in Swan Lake" is a simply breath-taking recounting of an old lover lost to AIDS set over the theme from Tchaichovsky's "Death of a Swan." So vivid, passionate, and real is it in its rejection of the standard AIDS narratives that when Juha sings "And when it comes to leaving planets, why wait?,” one takes the sentiment personally.
While marketed as "hip-hop" and "soul," it seems reductive to place this album in any genre box… I could see The Grooms of God causing hipsters in Minneapolis to jam while listening to it on their off-brand mp3 players, Californian hip hop fans from across that genre's spectrum to become engaged in this album's lyrical content, and queeny Parisian intellectuals to dance in their underwear (actually did see that one last week)… This album is awesome and essential.
- The Bilerico Project
Juha has reemerged with an even more sprawling, dense, and kaleidoscopic take on many of the themes explored in his classic debut recording, Polari. This time around, he’s further explored and extrapolated the sonics of his ‘gothic soul’ stylings…. Deeply personal while remaining musically and lyrically accessible, The Grooms of God bravely maps out an immediate call to self-love… subverting a patriarchal God-as-father theology through race allegory, feminist homage, and overt homoeroticism. The Christian church, dance clubs, mosques and men’s bathrooms all serve as interchangeable backdrops for the stories, which are delivered through a pitch-shifting, androgynous baritone that recalls Sarah Vaughan and Grace Jones. Whether through the Quranic imagery of the slinking, burbling “Akhar Virgin” or the cleverly minimalist cover of Gwen Guthrie’s “Ain’t Nothin Goin On But The Rent,” he skillfully manages to keep it light when the concepts get heavy. Self-seriousness is often the undoing of many a project as ambitious as Grooms; hearing Juha rap “I am: the bridge between ghetto and high falootin/between Huey Lewis and Huey Newton” makes it clear that he wants the listener in on the jokes as well along the journey. By the last track of the album, it feels like just the beginning.
- Juba Kalamka, Colorlines Magazine
Some artists are quick to describe their work as “hard to categorize” or “beyond category” when, in fact, they are easy to categorize; in other words, the artists aren’t as daring or unorthodox as they like to think they are. But singer/composer/producer Juha really is. The London resident, who was born and raised in the United States, has described his second album, The Grooms of God, as “gothic soul music.” But does that mean that he sounds like a cross between Maze/Frankie Beverly and Bauhaus, or a mixture of Donny Hathaway and Black Tape for a Blue Girl? No, that isn’t what’s going on, but what does transpire on The Grooms of God is certainly ambitious and full of intrigue. Juha offers a quirky, theatrical blend of funk, hip-hop, alternative rock, dance-pop, reggae and world music. A wide variety of direct or indirect influences can be heard on this album, ranging from Prince and Parliament/Funkadelic (as well as George Clinton’s solo output) to Bob Marley to alternative rappers (De La Soul, Digable Planets, A Tribe Called Quest) to G. Love & Special Sauce to Bollywood and modern Indian pop. G. Love, in fact, is a valid comparison because like G. Love, Juha is all over the place stylistically and refuses to confine himself to one genre.
As quirky, experimental, and eccentric as he can be, The Grooms of God is, for the most part, relatively accessible. Juha, for all his quirkiness, maintains a strong sense of groove, and that yields infectious results on funky originals such as “Akhar Virgin” and “Dip Dip” (which borrows and reworks some lyrics from Michael Zager’s 1978 disco hit “Let’s All Chant”). Juha also lets the funk flow on an unlikely remake of the late Gwen Guthrie’s 1986 hit “Ain’t Nothin’ Goin’ On But the Rent,” which was considered the golddigger’s national anthem in its day (along with Madonna’s “Material Girl”) and found Guthrie portraying herself as a woman who was after one thing only: money. The very fact that Juha is a man makes his decision to record “Ain’t Nothin’ Goin’ On But the Rent” ironic, and he has a lot of fun with a song written from a female perspective.
Juha successfully puts a reggae spin on bluesman Willie Dixon’s “My Love Will Never Die,” which was recorded by Magic Sam, Otis Rush and other Chicago blues singers. On “Paul in Swan Lake,” Juha even draws on Euro-classical music, sampling an excerpt from Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s 1875/1876 ballet “Swan Lake.” Uniting Tchaikovsky with a funk/hip-hop beat might have been a train wreck coming from someone else, but Juha makes them sound like a perfectly natural combination.
Juha’s adopted home of London has had a large Indian community for many years, and the influence of Indian pop is especially evident on “Weasel (A Begging Brother in Line),” “We Become the Men We Hated,” and the a cappella “Can the Bengal Bend All Day.” Meanwhile, “Dip Dip” contains a sample of the late African pop star Miriam Makeba along with the abovementioned Michael Zager reference. Never let it be said that Juha isn’t multicultural in his outlook.
At times, Juha can be self-indulgent, but never to the point of turning the listener off. And because he has so many interesting ideas, one can easily live with that self-indulgence, or even appreciate it. Juha takes plenty of chances on The Grooms of God, and they pay off for him in a major way.
- Alex Henderson (Billboard, SPIN, Allmusic)