Sook-Yin Lee and Adam Litovitz Radiate Warmth and Healing on 'jooj two'

Sook-Yin Lee and Adam Litovitz Radiate Warmth and Healing on 'jooj two'
Since the mid-'90s, Sook-Yin Lee has embedded herself in Canadian culture through her work as a broadcaster, actor, filmmaker, musician, and performance artist. In 2015, she embarked on a new musical journey with poet and composer Adam Litovitz. Calling themselves Jooj, they released a self-titled album of tense torch songs as serene as they were unnerving. At the time, Lee and Litovitz were partners in love. Though they later separated after 12 years together, they remained a central part of each other's lives until Litovitz tragically died in June 2019.

Before Litovitz's tragic passing, he and Lee had begun laying down tracks for what would become their followup, jooj two. But with Litovitz busy soundtracking a Netflix series, the duo decided she should finish the album without him. Nearly two years after Litovitz died, Lee is finally ready share that album. This time, however, there are no façades or alter egos: she is releasing the album under their own names.

jooj two spawned from Lee and Litovitz's desire to pay homage to their mutual love of pop music. But time and circumstance have exalted the album with a greater purpose: to celebrate Litovitz's life and all the affection he and Lee shared together — as friends, creative collaborators and lovers. jooj two encapsulates life in all its dizzying joy, comfort, confusion, doubt and despair. The album is a much-needed companion as the world grieves during the pandemic life. It is a source of empathy and hope for those feeling uncertain and alone.

Lee and Litovitz created Jooj at their own pace in the comfort of their home studio. She often spoke of that process as tending to a garden. Their leisurely stewardship continues on jooj two, and the yield is lusher and livelier.

Considering Lee and Litovitz's multiple talents, the mental fog of grief, and the theme of growth, it makes sense that Lee conjures Apollo on jooj two. In Greek and Roman mythology, Apollo is the god of music, dance, poetry, healing, order, agriculture and the sun. Through heavily abstracted lyrics, Lee calls his name on "Run Away with Her" ("Late Apollo, lack a loyal biding time / Made up aural light amoral lens") and "Re-Veil" ("She will break him down / On a creek I'm gone / All the parts are tight / Take care, Apollo").

Litovitz's playful, curious spirit lives on in jooj two's experimentalism. Thick, gritty electronics rule the queasily seductive grind of "Narcolept, Falling." The humid electronica of "Ship It Out" rises to a feverish dub drill. On "Lake Girls," Lee's multilayered vocals over plucked guitar notes and springy, cuckoo-like percussion create a cartoonish realm in the most wide-eyed and wondrous way. "There is time for sight to bend / Into a new ornament," she sings, suggesting that time will heal all wounds, or at least reduce the pain of losing her partner; the gift that was Lee and Litovitz's relationship will shine anew in hindsight.

The churning "Wrecking Heart" is another bright spot. As an immense drum thrums over a squeaky beat, Lee looks to the future: "In a golden tomorrow / I'll find a new me / In the wait and the wonder." No moments are more beautiful than "Delicate Tracks" or the etherial harmonies of "Rumble Like a Stranger," though. By simply lowering her vocal register on "Delicate Tracks," she hits an emotional depth not heard elsewhere on jooj two.

But like any bountiful garden, jooj two contains dark crevices and shaded canopies. An uneasy beat skitters beneath chopped and screwed vocals on "Introductory Escape." "Thorn in the Laws of Attraction" pumps up the heart rate like an approaching stampede. "Admitting that I'm wrong / Is a bigger load / Ignoring thank you / Riled up my heart," Lee sings on the roving "Re-Veil," hinting at regret over loose ends and unfinished business.

Lee also seeks order to remedy her unmoored present existence. She finds a glimmer of it on "Run Away with Her," a song inspired by the lonesome pandemic days she spent wandering Toronto's empty streets in search of her missing half. "I don't want to hide / I see you there / You are all aligned." "Run Away with Her" radiates warmth; it is inviting, a sanctuary.

The closest Lee comes to closure is on the epilogue, a sendoff simply titled "Adam." Over sparing gamelan, she chants a protection mantra from ancient Tibetan Buddhism. "Om tare tuttare ture soha," she repeats, "I prostrate to the Liberator, mother of the victorious ones." She prays for salvation from suffering as a means to true freedom, as much for herself as for Litovitz. The piece ends with the gentle sounds of lapping of water, a fundamental element of creation and a healing, nourishing force. jooj two flows in loving memory of Adam Litovitz. (Mint)