Album Reviews

jennylee – Right On!

(Rough Trade) UK release date: 11 December 2015

jennylee - right on! Warpaint bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg has said that Right On! was never intended to be more than a set of demos, recorded during downtime after the band finished touring their second album. Gradually though, something began to flourish from these basal efforts, so she booked time in producer and drummer Norm Block’s studio in California, bringing in Broken Bells guitarist Dan Elkan and her bandmate Stella Mozgawa among others to flesh out 10 songs in as many days.

Opener Blind, narcotised and reverb-soaked, crawls perhaps further along an experimental path than Warpaint have to date, but there’s little aside from the initially impressive murk to hold the interest. Far better are the adumbrated R&B of Boom Boom, driven by a clipped, repetitious line from Lindberg – channelling the industrial funk of 23 Skidoo, gradually building with fuzzy voice and guitar – and Never, which blends the ice-cool discord of Kim Gordon’s songs for Sonic Youth and a rhythm section almost note-perfectly recreating the interplay of Joy Division/New Order’s Hook and Morris.

The stand-out Long Lonely Winter follows; initially sparse, almost tender in its self-pity (“I’m cold in my weakness”). Lindberg coos over stripped-back guitar and bass (recalling The Cure’s desolate Faith as much as her own band’s Undertow) before, in the final two minutes, a needling synth enters and the bass and drums pick up a loose, staccato groove – Jenny Lee’s playing here is economical and funky, plucked muted strings adding texture and space.

In its best moments, Right On! is a dark, bewitching début that is bound to appeal to fans of Warpaint. Too often, though, its formulas are repeated and sketches left uncoloured to cumulatively less engaging effect. Bully fails to live up to its claustrophobic menaces (“Have you seen her, do you know where she hides, I’m gonna get her, I’m gonna turn her inside out”), while the wonky, de-tuned He Fresh is a clammy slow-jam that starts gaunt and wears thinner.

Perhaps betraying the album’s demo-only origins, lyrics are often limited to a few repeated phrases or single words, frequently hard to pick out from the effects-laden mire: it could be telling that Lindberg has expressed a lack of confidence in her own singing voice, coming from a band whose songs so often are built around the intermeshed voices of their two guitarists.

The second half  does hold a few pleasures, though: Riot is a dub-heavy groove with shades of The Slits that’s atmospheric but dangerously danceable; the excellent Offerings again brings the early work of Robert Smith and co. to the table, and White Devil’s escalating back-and-forth with guest vocalist Kris Byerly recalls the male/female vocal sparring of Leicester’s Prolapse.

Lindberg clearly shares her bandmates’ taste for the darker side of post-punk and new wave, which is capably displayed, but there’s little here that stands apart from her work with Warpaint, suggesting anything more than a record born of idle time in recording and touring schedules, with Real Life – stark and acoustic, with the delicately terrifying intensity of Polly Harvey or Kristin Hersh – the first sign of other directions that might have been taken. Frustratingly, it’s the final song.

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