Review Summary: No more will I look around and wonder how it all began, no more will I look around for you.
Hype is a funny thing. In today's music scene, far from helping the cause of many an up-and-coming act, the presence of hype surrounding a band, album or scene invariably raises the suspicions of nearly everyone that hears it. We begin to ask questions. Why are they pushing so hard to hype up this band? What do they have to hide? How much money is that person saying good things about the band being paid to do so?
Like it or not, nowadays, we're all cynics when it comes to anything that allows for even the slightest shred of doubt. Sure, our favourite band could
keep up the streak of great albums they've released over the past decade with their next one. But, in our eyes, the more near-classics they produce, the more likely they are to screw up next time. We might not want to think like this, it's just we can't help it. We've been hurt before. Hurt by dodgy band members and dubious circumstances, hurt by bands selling out, record labels cashing in, hurt by disappointment. The only music likely to be hyped up is the latest surefire big hit-here this month, gone the next. There's no room any more for art that has to grow on you, no room for music that might be a little different, just a little ambitious. Music that truly touches the soul, that truly taps into the resevoir of human emotion is too hard to come by. Why get your hopes up? You're only going to end up disappointed in the end.
Tune in to any community or indie radio station on the East Coast of Australia in the last six months, and you would've heard one name repeated ad nauseum-"The Jezabels
". Live snippets showcasing layer upon layer of effected guitar and keyboard bursting out from behind dreamily crooned female vocals, interviews with band members, advertisements for live gigs. But most of all, news of the Sydney four-piece's upcoming debut LP, Prisoner
. They seemed to be everywhere at once, never ceasing, never stopping for a second-constantly touted as the next big thing, Australia's best potential export in years. A band with a sound enjoyable, emotive, and fresh. Of course, with this towering wall of hype comes all the usual questions. Our in-bred defences, our wall of cynicism and doubt comes back in to play front and center. "There's no way they're as good as they say." "Anyone that needs to push a band this hard is obviously getting something out of it." "Please, do they actually expect me to fall for that crock? It's obvious this band are nothing special."
For all intents and purposes, The Jezabels are just this month's version of The Media's Next Big Thing, doomed to be forgotten a year from now, a mere sidenote in the musical history of Australia. Except for one crucial difference.
The Jezabels are GOOD
Listen to the album's opener and title track, "Prisoner", and maybe your disbelief will be suspended for a little while as you take in the ethereal qualities of the band's musicianship. Layers upon layers of subtly effects-soaked guitars meld with ethereal keyboards and simple but pulse-like drumming, providing the perfect backdrop for Hayley Mary's crooned, occasionally country-inflected vocals. Stay a little while longer until the end of the album's first single, "Endless Summer", and you'll realise just how effortlessly Hayley's vocals combine her oh-so-Australian heart-rending croon with an undeniable sense of indie-pop's finest sing-along choruses, providing melodies strong enough to stick in your head for days. "But they've obviously front-loaded the album with the two best tracks. Any minute now the quality has to start to drop off."
We can't help but expect disappointmentat every turn. It's by far the most common outcome. Why should this time be any different?
Stick around until mid-album highlight, "City Girl", and slowly the doubts start to fade away. There's something oddly fresh about The Jezabels. A sound that should get stale doesn't. A songwriting formula filled with sweet melodies and a steady supply of sing-along choruses that should, in theory, begin to become tiring and overbearing never does. They almost sound too
Australian, both in their musical
composition and in their vocal performance-a quality which should prove irksome, but rarely does. It's not that the doubts are completely gone. They're just pushed to the side for the moment. But as the listening experience continues on, from the urgently epic feel of "Nobody Nowhere" to the soul-wrenching "Peace of Mind", the penultimate track of Prisoner
, and everything in between, the doubts fade further and further into the background. Something in the way that the drums pound away with steady yet inventive rhythms, never overplaying the song, but never fading into background noise either keeps us holding on. Something in the energy exuded by the guitars with their delay-and-chorus soaked sweeping chord progressions that keeps us curious for more. Something in the otherworldy atmosphere of the keyboards that speak of an idyllic time past that never existed, a mixture of history and fantasy that provides the perfect escape from our prison that for a few moments supends our cynicism and doubt. But above all, it's the soulful croon of Hayley Mary, constantly fluctuating somewhere between vulnerable country girl and seductive femme fatale without ever losing its authenticity, without ever sounding pretentious or planned, that seals the deal for The Jezabels. For once, the hype was right. For once, our expectations were wrong. For once, we were mistaken. Maybe sometimes, we can discover something new and exciting.
isn't always an instant album. Moments that sound awkward and ill-conceived on first listen reveal an emotionally-charged vulnerability and honesty on repeated listens. The flow of the album seems slightly off-kilter at first, until the rapidly-amassing wall of longing, of sadness, of escapism and fantasy finally comes crashing down and reveals the album for what it truly is. For a debut album, Prisoner
is a superb achievement, and The Jezabels truly do have the potential to become Australia's premiere act in the next few years. But in the end, only one thing matters. For a few fleeting minutes in any given day, The Jezabels have the ability to captivate us all, to take us Prisoner to their heartstring-tugging masterpiece. As the final notes of closer "Catch Me" fade away, The Jezabels truly reveal their best part. The ability to remove us from the confines of everyday life, remove all of us everyday Prisoners from our everyday prisons, and speed our escape with that little bit of fantasy and idealism, and perfectly encapsulate the emotions we feel.