By Rocco Prioletti, Contributor
[Rough Trade; 2022]
Key Tracks: “Neon,” “Concrete Over Water,” “Glasgow”
“Just keep moving forward / Just keep moving” doubles both as the record’s closing remarks and a sentiment that experimental-pop duo Jockstrap have strived to adhere to. The multi-instrumentalists have bonded and blossomed through their contrasting backgrounds of interest. Both met at London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama, with Georgia Ellery studying jazz and Taylor Skye electronic composition, respectively. This juxtaposition between Ellery’s classically trained, free-flowing jazz sensibilities and the angular highs of Skye’s glitched instrumentation plants the seed for which their debut record, I Love You Jennifer B further flourishes.
Lead single and centerpiece, “Concrete Over Water” unveils their endearing tonal shifts in sound: transforming an intimate organ ballad into a burlesque of stuttering synths. The production throughout is beautifully sporadic, with their fragile mix of luscious chamber compositions and abrasive digital malfunctions. It’s almost reminiscent of a more sincere take on the PC Music collective’s approach to production. One moment I have come back to time-and-time again upon immediate re-listen is that of the closing chorus on opening track, “Neon”. During its climax, Skye’s clashing production creates a dense wall of sound, as overbearing and distorted drums clip through the valleys of Ellery’s frail and desperate vocals. Each song throughout the record has these distinct moments: drenched in the sweetest of honey, begging to be replayed and re-enamored, as if hearing it upon first listen again. This project has been one of my most re-listened to albums in recent memory.
Often increasing from hushed and porcelain-like to powerful bellows of pure bliss, Georgia Ellery has solidified herself as an incredibly captivating vocalist. “It’s you / Maybe, it’s you” she hopefully yearns, unraveling in an expanse of instrumentation from an eighteen-piece string orchestra, often heard drifting in and out of each song, gracefully crescendoing and de-crescendoing. This aforementioned orchestra paints a cinematic picture that envelopes each piece within a feeling of weightlessness. “Glasgow” is the duo’s soundtrack to a coming of age, a portrait of lustful desire and isolation. Lines like, “I trust myself / I’m a woman she believes in / I touch myself / Every time I see / What’s missing from my life”, offer an uncommonly blunt depiction of women’s sexuality. Affirmatively rejecting the standard sugarcoating of subject matter, instead she embraces it. Ellery clarifies this in an interview with The Forty-Five, saying, “The ones that are more sexually direct are more about having a sensual feeling and trying to depict it; I enjoy trying to depict it – to me it’s very vivid and it’s a form of sexual expression. Lots of the songs, the topic is more [about] sexual repression so maybe that’s why I go to express it”. In the post-chorus, we are able to physically feel this repression. Coming almost as a sigh of relief, the string section quickly sweeps through in a breeze of emphatic melody. This has easily become one of my favorite bits of music of the year. Alongside another song’s post-chorus, that being “Concorde” off of Black Country, New Road’s excellent record, Ants From Up There, which Georgia Ellery is also a part of.
The duo are dearly nomadic, constantly moving from one sonic palette to the next: no two songs sounding alike. However, achieving such ambition is nearly impossible without falling into their long path of influences. It’s hard not to deny, “Debra” as sounding entirely like an early M.I.A. cut. While though still great and energetic, compared to the other span of cutting-edge and overtly “Jockstrap” songs: “Debra” sadly falls short. Not taking enough of a risk in an album full of tonal risks. Along this line, their inclusion of loose single, “50/50” as the closing track stands as a very odd and unfitting conclusion to the record. Standalone, it’s an incredibly captivating dance track, with a hook that refuses to leave the listener’s ear. But, especially following the melancholic two-track run that precedes it, when in proper context, the song feels comically out of place. Which is saying a lot considering the group’s inclination to do just that. Plus, the addition of an extended mix onto the track also leaves much to be desired, only lazily slowing and stretching the song out without adding anything substantive.
Even the ironically titled and endearing, “Angst” could have been a sweet sendoff. Its beautiful arrangement of sparse plucked harps coincided with rolling trap high-hats and glitching phases of reversed feedback. However, the crushing performance at the tail-end of “Lancaster Court”, sets itself accordingly as the album’s definitive closing statement. Being the much-needed tonal reset for the album: casting an elusive journey of gentle arpeggiated acoustic guitars and crushing timpani hits. Ellery distantly belts in an operatic timbre, offering a breath-taking performance and further testament to their sheer versatility. Such a conclusion would have tied the record together perfectly. Though, could it be that “50/50’s” one-eighty in thematic tension was used for a sense of comedic relief? A joyous horizon to clear the gloomy skies from the track it follows.
The title track, “Jennifer B” and the subsequent, “Greatest Hits” display this playful, irony-tinged side of Jockstrap’s approach to music. Interspersed throughout many of the tracks are charming chopped-and-screwed vocal inflections: oversaturated, reversed, muffled, sped up and down. From gags of being someone’s gamer-girl, producer-tag interjections slurred in a comical southern accent and baby daddy adlibs; it’s through these almost incessant comedic spurts that their dense compositions can fully shine. Not taking themselves too seriously, humbly releasing one of the most genre-bending records in pop: I Love You Jennifer B is truly a one-of-a-kind record that will be remembered for years to come.