Some debut albums are highly anticipated as a result of internet hype or the promise of a catchy early single, but, occasionally, one arrives that is highly anticipated because there is simply no way to imagine what the music contained within it might sound like. Jockstrap’s debut ‘I Love You Jennifer B’ is one such magical record.
This should come as little surprise: the London duo have been confounding expectations since their 2020 EP ‘Wicked City’, and in as much as their sound can be summarised, Georgia Ellery’s shimmery, potent vocals and bubbly songwriting tend to be skewered, warped and mutated by Taylor Skye’s ambitiously experimental production. Every possibility that their early material promised comes to spectacular fruition on a full-length statement that seems set to leave an indelible mark. As Ellery – who also performs in Black Country New Road – told NME earlier this week: their limitless sound is no intended statement, just how it all goes.
The opening moments of ‘Neon’, where Ellery’s bare voice is accompanied by strummed acoustic guitar, tempt us into believing that the album’s shock twist might be that it is in fact a collection of classic, traditional tunes: within a minute, tortured, muffled, after-hours beats drag us into an underworld, and nothing is safe anymore. The track continues to unravel, guitars eventually buzz-sawing through our eardrums, the percussion marching us toward some horrific Pagan ritual and Ellery’s voice suddenly an emergency siren. Rarely do you hear album openers like this.
Skye and Ellery first bonded over their shared love of the post-dubstep music of James Blake, Mount Kimbie, et al, but the work they make together sounds like it broke away from the evolutionary path of familiar music much longer ago than that. On the album’s six-minute centrepiece ‘Concrete Over Water’, Ellery slides in and out of a paralysing falsetto while flashes of dramatically arranged strings gesture towards classic Hollywood melodrama, before a quasi-gospel ‘chorus’ guide us in a different direction entirely. Soon, that is usurped by a twitching, frenetic synth line straight out of a hyperactive Battles track: “I’m glad you take me as I am/whatever shape/light and dark at once,” Ellery sings, and it’s hard to think she is not directly addressing her audience.
All the while, Jockstrap parade their deep and true love of ‘60s and ‘70s songwriting. ‘What’s It All About?’ shows flashes of Cilla Black and Dionne Warwick, while ‘Glasgow’ features the least sonic tampering of any of the album’s songs, allowing the duo’s love of Joni Mitchell to run free, concluding that prettiness and directness are equally valid tools in their deep box of tricks.
In amongst the madness, there is a non-negotiable commitment to remembering that fun must lie at the centre of everything they do. If you can’t dance to a Jockstrap tune – stylishly or with reckless abandon – it would seem that they feel they have failed. ‘I Love You Jennifer B’ is the product of a voracious appetite to find the gaps in between the familiar, a record emblazoned with such pristine, disorienting, unsettling originality that at first, you don’t quite know what to do with it.
- Release date: September 9
- Record label: Rough Trade