June / July Album Review – Snail Mail, Let’s Eat Grandma, and Jayhawks

We had the first half of our June / July album review last week, with Slow Readers Club, Florence, Ben Howard and Courtney Barnett. Today, part two.

A big theme in recent months has been how the list of “interesting” female, mainly US artists (in different genres) just keeps growing and growing; Monae, Olsen, Holter, Musgraves, Gauthier, Phair, Diane, Case, Prass, Jay Som, Elizabeth and her Catapult have all had excellent albums out in the last year or so.

And now we can add Snail Mail to that list, which is basically 18 year old Lindsey Jordan, a young woman who has built a strong online following in recent years. At 18!  But this debut, Lush, is an album that both absolutely sounds “teenage” in its mood swings from lethargy to delight, from innocence to fear of the future, and clever lyrics about love and life, yet is also musically very mature, cool and assured. Pitchfork called it “emotionally wise, musically clear, and encompasses the once and future sound of indie rock” and who are we to disagree?  It is intelligent-indie in genre terms, with mainly tuneful mid-tempo songs, which can perhaps sound a little similar on early listens, but all illustrated by very impressive guitar (she is classically trained).  It is not a million miles away from Barnett’s work (see part 1 of our June /July review) but at the moment, I am marginally preferring this. 8/10

Let’s Eat Grandma’s debut I, Gemini in 2016 was a crazy mix of kids songs, glockenspiels, recorders, fairly-tale nightmares and general weirdness. Amazingly, it came from two 16 year old girls from Norwich, with songs written when they were 13 or so (and was in our top ten of the year). The girls are now all of 19, and their second album is very different, more mature, not surprisingly – but still very impressive. I’m All Ears still has vaguely unsettling and odd moments, but also shows their core songwriting maturing, with two epic ten-minute-long works amongst shorter electro dance-pop bangers like the ecstatic Hot Pink.

One of those long tracks, Donnie Darko, is truly brilliant – it is rare to listen to an 11-minute track and then want to listen to it again immediately, as I did. It goes through various phases and styles yet hangs together beautifully (and I speak as someone who thinks that bands should have to get my personal permission for any track over 4 minutes in length).  And there is a moment – well, about a minute actually - at 7:48 in that track that is just wonderful. Then it veers off again, only to finish with – well, I’ll let you judge. Lyrics are thoughtful and clever, and the longer tracks have a way of catching you off-guard as really beautiful moments suddenly emerge from sounds that are almost prog-rock at times. They have just recently been added to the Reading Festival bill and I am more excited about seeing them than pretty much anything else at the festival.  I don’t know if they will remain a minority cult-type act with a small or devoted following, or rule the world. Either option seems very possible. 9/10

And now for something totally different... the Jayhawks have been together for almost twice as long as the Let’s Eat Grandma girls have lived, and when I think about it, they may well be one of my 20 favourite bands of all time. Their tuneful country-blues-rock songs and great vocal harmonies are not particularly challenging at first listen, but have great tunes and just enough grit and blues influence to stay this side of sentimentality.

Albums like Hollywood Town Hall, Tomorrow the Green Grass and Sound of Lies have stood the test of time and still sound great today.  (Try Waiting for the Sun from Hollywood Town Hall if you want a four-minute trial listen).  Anyway, their new album, Back Roads and Abandoned Motels is actually made up of songs that their guitarist Gary Louris has written for and with other artists, now recorded by the Jayhawks. I’m not sure I would prefer this over those earlier works, but this is very enjoyable, if a bit less cohesive than pure Jayhawks albums – but if you like early to mid-period Eagles for instance, give this a go. And if you don’t know the band, do check out that earlier work. 8/10

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