Old school fans of The Head and The Heart – you’re in for a treat. Josiah Johnson is back in the music scene with the release of his first ever solo record, Every Feeling On A Loop. While in many ways this album marks a departure from his time with The Head and the Heart, it also feels like a return to what we loved the most about his past work: soaring melodies sung with bittersweet candor, cathartic choruses settling into moments of quiet vulnerability, and the gentle, familiar croon of Johnson’s baritone. It’s a record that feels like coming home again.
But it wasn’t an easy road home for Johnson. After leaving The Head And The Heart due to his struggles with addiction, he almost quit music altogether: “I let it go and I said, I’m not going to play music anymore. I don’t have a relationship with it anyways,” Johnson commented in an interview with Sound & Vision. “And then, pretty quickly, I started doing the thing that I have done for most of my post adolescent life, which is write songs to figure out what my feelings were. And then I started writing songs and not worrying about whether or not they were good enough. And it just started making sense again.”
The record explores Johnson’s long, winding road to recovery: mending broken relationships, learning to speak up and ask for help, and celebrating his identity as a musician, a friend, a lover, and a member of the queer community. There really aren’t many analogies or metaphors hiding his message: he shares his story openly and offers some kernels of wisdom that he’s learned along the way. Although simple, his lyrics are refreshingly frank, holding the colloquial wisdom of an older brother passing along advice to his younger siblings. And given how much he’s been through these last few years, he has a lot of advice to offer.
Thematically, the album emphasizes the importance of accountability: holding yourself responsible for your life decisions, your wellbeing, and the way you navigate your relationships. This is why the album feels so unique. We often hear songs about relationships falling apart, but it’s rare to hear a song investigating how and why your own behavior may have contributed to this fallout. With humility and compassion, Johnson owns up to his mistakes, and accepts that some bridges will burn, but others can be salvaged.
We see this in “I Wish I Would,” one of the highlights of the album. In his symphonic folk ballad, Johnson looks at how he used to push people away and avoid saying how he felt, which ultimately ended up hurting himself and his relationships: “I stick my head in the sand / Hope it all goes away / Like I always have” he sings with resignation, before breaking into a heartbreaking refrain: “I wish I had been ready for you / We could’ve done all those things that lovers do / But I wouldn’t let you in / You had to wait in the dark / All of those years wondering when it would start.” In “Nobody Knows,” he turns inward and compares himself to a “potted plant” needing watering: an image that may seem a little silly, but one that carries a very sincere message about the importance of self-care.
Every Feeling On A Loop is about healing, and the record itself has a healing effect. There’s something about the intimacy in Josiah’s vocals when he sings, “The world’s not going to end if you do not get your way, my friend,” that feels like an old friend embracing you after years spent apart. The instrumentation has a similar effect, wrapping the listener in a quilt of colorful textures, lush musical arrangements, and rich harmonies. Cellos, horns, and tambourines light up the record, creating scenes of reconciliation, heartache, and self-love on his road to recovery.
Every Feeling On A Loop has the grandiose sweep of a Sufjan Stevens record with the accessibility of The Lumineers. Filled to the brim with exuberance, euphoria, and love, Johnson’s lust for life radiates through the album. Josiah, we’ve missed you. Welcome back.