Review Summary: What’s a girl to do, standing in the spotlight?
Of the many things that Synthia
is, it might best be characterized as bold. It’s bold to start an album off with a nearly eight minute epic that is a complete stylistic departure from anything the band has done before. It’s bold to follow that
up with a schizophrenic, over-the-top pop song. That’s fine though, because The Jezabels are in the perfect position to take big chances. Their debut album Prisoner
blew onto everyone’s radar with deceptive force and an undeniable alt-rock sway, while The Brink
followed that up with sweet-spot romanticism washed over in retro-80s glaze. The thing that both albums had in common was their unwavering quality, and judging by Synthia
, that is going to be a permanent trait with this band. Like all truly great artists, it seems that The Jezabels are not content to remain still – and with their third full length release, they’ve evolved into the best version of themselves that we’ve ever heard.
wouldn’t reach the heights that it does without its weird, brilliant, and intoxicatingly off-kilter opening sequence. It all begins with ‘Stand and Deliver’, which is hands-down the strangest and most compelling piece this band has composed. Riding in on glistening electronic keystrokes, it gradually increases in tempo while building towards Hayley Mary’s gorgeous, spoken-word introduction. The more the song unravels, the more an undercutting bitterness starts to reveal itself as Hayley beckons “come and give a bitch a kiss” during a precursor to a choral, almost operatic chant. It’s the first of many moments on Synthia
in which you can tell that something has gotten under her skin, as we later witness more plainly during ‘Smile.’ The back portion of ‘Stand and Deliver’ ascends into a cloud of percussive ferocity, overshadowing the splashes of electric guitar that one can lightly make out in the background before it all comes crashing back down to earth on a pillow of softly sung verses. The range in both style and intensity is a thing of beauty, and The Jezabels are just getting started.
‘My Love is My Disease’ and ‘Smile’ seemingly go hand-in-hand, even though they’re polar opposites. The former sounds like a grandiose, sarcastic celebration – and it unsurprisingly has the most memorable chorus on the entire album. The latter is more subdued but substantially deeper, delving into some of the nitty-gritty aspects of feminism in 2016: “you can whistle at me on the street where I am walking”, “I got my problems just like anybody else does / but I may not look as whoopty-fucking-doo as you may like”, and – most notably – “don’t tell me to smile, when for all you know I just buried my mother.” It doesn’t feel like a biting societal indictment so much as it does a purgative release of individual frustration; although it’s clear that the two aren’t that far apart. By the time the first three tracks have passed into the rearview mirror, the ambition and manic to-and-fro of Synthia
is on full display.
While the record’s midsection and back end don’t summon as much attention as the frenzied opening trifecta, it’s far from a front-loaded affair. The tempo takes a clear downshift, delving into deeply personal and often brooding slow-burners. ‘Come Alive’ is the most notable of the bunch, spinning up a sinister groove that emanates from superb drum-bass interplay. It’s almost in the Florence + The Machine arena: dark in nature, densely atmospheric, but ultimately uplifting. The latter trait comes when Hayley erupts into a downright stunning, angel-pitched chorus. Her voice is gorgeously breathy, like a wispy draft that finds its way through a window crack to send a shiver up the back of your neck. It’s a crescendo that’s quite unlike anything else on Synthia
, marking a clear highlight amidst countless other notable moments. There’s also no way to ignore the simplistic beauty present on ‘Flowers In The Attic’ – a track that has all the tell-tale signs of becoming a fan-favorite ballad. It is Hayley Mary’s strongest vocal performance on this album, maybe since ‘No Country’, and perhaps even ever. There are gorgeous allusions and metaphors abound (“like flowers in the attic – I never meant to let you down”) atop strings that swell with the sorrow of forlorn, black and white memories. When contrasting these sprawling, moodily heartfelt ballads with the ambitious experimentation heard at the record’s outset, there’s no discernable winner – well, other than The Jezabels, who can seemingly do no wrong.
was the best possible move The Jezabels could have made following two uniquely successful albums. On the towering opener ‘Stand and Deliver’, Hayley Mary poses the question “what’s a girl to do, standing in the spotlight?” It’s an appropriate question given her circumstances, and in Synthia
we receive a response better than any half-clever thing that I could have concocted from a writing standpoint. The answer isn’t to try to live up to past successes, as that only ever leads to disappointment. The Jezabels wouldn’t have made a Prisoner
better than the original, nor could they have created The Brink: Part II
with identical lasting appeal. It is, and has always been, about keeping your head up and your eyes forward - after all, that’s the only path we have any say in. It’s clear that The Jezabels are making the most of that opportunity.