An astonishing debut, an intoxicating statement, impossibly ambitious, inventive and exhilarating. It’s quite the ride
Now and again, an album comes along that shatters preconceptions, that has you mentally rewriting your album of the year lists, that persuades even the most cynical and jaded of music fans that – yes – new music is being made which is still exciting, challenging and addictive.
Jockstrap‘s I Love You Jennifer B is one of those albums. Initial impressions aren’t great. That terrible name, for one thing. The album cover art, for another – simply, the band’s name scrawled across a grey background. Yet step inside Jockstrap’s world, and you’ll find music impossibly ambitious, inventive and exhilarating. It’s quite the ride.
Georgia Ellery and Taylor Skye sound like Portishead put through a shredder, or like Grimes throwing out an enormous number of curveballs, once she’s escaped from Elon Musk. Ellery is also a member of Black Country New Road, so a penchant for experimentation shouldn’t be a surprise. Yet while her other band sometimes become a bit too navel-gazey, Jockstrap sound incredibly focused. Ellery and Skye don’t just throw the kitchen sink at everything, they leave the taps running as well. It’s an approach that may well be divisive, but for those who buy into their vision, the rewards are plentiful.
Each of the 10 songs gathered on I Love You Jennifer B takes turns you wouldn’t expect. Neon begins with just Ellery singing over an acoustic guitar, before trip-hop atmospherics kick in, drums clatter, and discordant synths threaten to overwhelm the song. As an opening track, it’s quite the statement of intent.
And from there, things become ever more bizarre. Jennifer B is frenetic, full of skittery beats and odd vocal samples from out of nowhere – “Shifting about in her goddamn crochet pants staring at God knows what” to give one example. And they’re followed by the wonderful Greatest Hits, a louche disco classic where Ellery not only namechecks Madonna, but paraphrases Like A Virgin (“for the first time, I like it when he’s inside me”).
There’s plenty of studio trickery on display on the album, but that never distracts from the quality of songwriting on display. Glasgow is relatively straightforward, a strummed road ballad employing both acoustic guitar and strings to create something pretty magical. What’s It All About is a dreamy ’60s-style ballad, while Debra is possibly the most affecting song ever sung from the perspective of an Animal Crossing avatar. The latter is one of the album’s many highlights, featuring Ellery mournfully singing “grief is just love with nowhere to go” before bhangra beats kick in to produce one of the most musically exciting moments of 2022.
The amount of ideas pouring out of Jockstrap can sometimes be overwhelming. Album centrepiece Concrete Over Water is six minutes long and takes several musical turns throughout its running time, and it’s sprawling, glitchy and completely hypnotic. When it lets loose at the song’s climax, the feeling is almost cathartic, and that’s without even mentioning the nods to opera present on the song.
Whether it be the harp-accompanied Angst – which could be Joanna Newson after being locked in a room with nothing but Björk outtakes for a month – or the techno banger of 50/50 which closes the album, every track on I Love You Jennifer B is a gem. This is an astonishing debut album, one to immerse yourself in and live with for weeks, if not months – an intoxicating statement which announces one of Britain’s most exciting new bands.