For a few years, Taylor Skye and Georgia Ellery have been burrowing away around various spots and venues of London, under the moniker of their equally outlandish name, Jockstrap. Having formed at the prestigious music institution of Guildhall, they were aiming to do what almost all artists strive to do: be different. And in a world of the post-post-(post-)modern, where all things have virtually passed, all art seemingly done before, this was a tough feat.
Cool? They certainly were. Pretentious? Yes, quite possibly. However, with their debut album, I Love You Jennifer B, the duo have defied the odds (and certainly my expectations), creating something that’s quirky without being unlistenable.
As Ellery told our very own Archie Brydon: “I feel like people expect our music to often be shocking… It’s very easy to make empty, shocking music.” But, it turns out, Ellery and Skye didn’t go down the easy route, instead having made a deeply gratifying new record, which doesn’t so much shock as it does meld many things.
The first moments of opener ‘Neon’ set the scene acoustically, like the soundtrack to some Spaghetti Western. Then, the first of many twists. A pause, a wail, a pitter-patter of drones, before a clatter of noise, a smattering of drums. “I won’t do this again, to you or to anyone / I won’t do this again, to myself”, Ellery howls repeatedly – yet such musical idiosyncrasies is exactly what you should come to expect on this record.
Skye has been a promising producer for some years now, his solo work taking at least some influence from the theatrics of his parents, who were both performers on the West End. Ellery, also a prominent member of successful post-punkers Black Country, New Road, uses her voice to its full complimentary effect, fluttering at times, asserting itself at others.
The playfully titled ‘Greatest Hits’ sounds like a play on a 90s classic; but again, it toys with you in expected ways, as a breakbeat synth enters and Ellery poetically disorientates your sense of time, with the lyric “Imagine I’m Madonna / Imagine I’m the Madonna”. In one instance we’re situated in recent pop history followed swiftly by an age of timeless figures.
That clash of the old and the new is a recurring theme throughout much of the record. The openings to both ‘Glasgow’, with its sweet-sounding harp, and subsequent ‘Lancaster Court’ bear the hallmarks of antiquated court music, conjuring images of historic femme fatale figures like Ophelia or Tennyson’s Lady of Shalott. But, especially in ‘Glasgow’, this is soon dismantled by a sudden rush of tightly produced modern orchestral sounds.
And then factor in the finale, ‘50/50’ – an extended version of the album’s lead single, and the project’s first release through their current label, Rough Trade, who the pair signed to at the end of last year. The track wouldn’t be out of place in a set from Blawan, KiNK or any manner of experimental DJs, even if for a moment, as the intricacy of Skye’s production and “vigorous editing process” they described to us come into full effect, above Ellery’s witch-like “Ahh, ayy, ooh, eee, ahh” noises.
The existential ‘What’s It All About?’ is my favourite track on the record for its sweeping, nostalgic qualities. Tracks ‘Concrete Over Water’, ‘Angst’ and ‘Debra’ midway through the album, meanwhile, all embody the aforementioned disparate collation of sounds, which somehow, almost impossibly at times, manage to fit into a unified whole – something this neat, ten-track package is too, in its totality.
And yet – or perhaps even because of such attempts at trying all manner of sounds – you feel there’s a kind of irony to the whole thing. As though the pair are saying, “Yeh, we can do that – so what?”. Take the accompanying press shots of them, for instance, with their fake hair casting them as old-fashioned film stars. Even the album’s title sounds like the impersonation of a (rather than an actual) film title. Then compare that to the almost laughably minimalist album cover.
There’s a game of smoke and mirrors being had here. As if they know that in order to be new, they must compile a smorgasbord of lots that’s come before. It’s very clever. And it sounds terrific.
We don’t give half stars – if we did this would be four-and-a-half. Instead, it’s a four, held back on account of not quite allowing its more soulful moments to completely absorb you. (I wish there were another similar-sounding track to ‘What’s It All About?’).
But such a score, you feel, is no bad thing for this pair. For one thing, they evidently have a full-mark album in them; for another, the most interesting characters are always the ones with at least one flaw.