Review Summary: Toeing the line between fervent experimentation and enjoyable song craft...effortlessly.
Let’s Eat Grandma are a tough duo to pin down, both musically and personally. Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth have an odd sense of humor that a lot of people don’t quite vibe with, such as the time that they confessed via interview that they are actually witches – a prank that stuck with certain publications and led to them being labeled as “freaky teenagers”, replete with comparisons to characters out of The Ring
and The Shining
. They’re not witches, of course, but that hasn’t stopped them from working magic in the studio. Their debut LP I, Gemini
illustrated the depth and complexity of their particular musical brand – one that is infused with healthy doses of dream pop and indie-rock. Now, with a second album under their belt, Let’s Eat Grandma have proved a couple of things. The first is that their quirky personalities are a major creative asset. The second is that they will never be content to remain artistically stationary, resulting in a sophomore record that is certain to get noticed in a big way.
‘Hot Pink’ blasts its way onto the scene with industrial, Sophie-esque beats and a virtual monsoon of electronics/studio effects that partially serve to disorient its listeners. It’s something of an anomaly, however, as the vast majority of I’m All Ears
slants towards deliberately complex but thoughtfully designed pop music. Lengthy song structures are nothing new to Let’s Eat Grandma, but they’ve never sounded as full-bodied or confident as they do here. ‘Snakes & Ladders’, ‘Cool & Collected’, and ‘Donnie Darko’ all reside in the six to eleven minute range, with each serving as a uniquely impressive pillar. The methodical, atmospheric progression of ‘Snakes & Ladders’ feels almost like the band’s Jimmy Eat World moment – with a to-and-fro rhythm that rocks the listener into a dreamy haze while the emotional intensity ramps up with each and every verse. An interesting evolution that occurs within and over the course of I’m All Ears
is how the lyrics – which begin as cryptic and superficial – become more and more specific and personal. By the time we reach ‘Cool & Collected’, the second of what I’d consider to be the album’s three defining moments, we hear the duo sing: “ I'm impressed with you, but don't have that effect on you…I can't express to you, I'll be here if you want me to / I'm just obsessed with you, I'm always such a mess with you”
– a personal but vague confession that sees them arrive at something of an emotional stalemate; this desperate need to convey something, only without the adequate verbiage: “ And you make me feel so…And you make me feel so”
. They never quite find the words, and it seems even more appropriate that way. It’s a line that summarizes all the times we’ve wished we could say something – perhaps even worked up the courage – but simply couldn’t bridge the profundity of our emotions with any common words in our language arsenal. It’s moments like this that take an apparently peculiar duo and make them expressly relatable; human in a way that the music behind the words doesn’t necessarily project. As the record moves along and the wall between musician and listener crumbles even further, the curtain-call ‘Donnie Darko’ gets very – perhaps uncomfortably
– specific , detailing an abusive childhood atop, of all things, a danceable beat: “Cause the beatings just get harder and we'll never grow them out / Cause the hand that does the dealings is the one that feeds your mouth.”
A lot of things remain unclear: is this an account of personal experiences or the telling of another’s story？ Is the celebratory musical backdrop meant as sarcasm…triumph？While the meanings remain open-ended, it stands in beautiful contrast to the enigmatic tones that I’m All Ears
initially set out with, while also serving as clear evidence of growth over the course of just one record. Quite frankly, it’s amazing.
While the long, winding epics provide the best snapshots of I’m All Ears
’ most towering moments, this is anything but a hit-or-miss album. The more straightforward tracks still thrive: ‘It’s Not Just Me’ feels like a lost Chvrches hit, bouncing excitedly atop vibrant synths; ‘Falling Into Me’ revives a good deal of the experimental overture that was ‘Hot Pink’, allowing various electronic, industrial, and pop influences to somehow harmoniously collide; ‘I Will Be Waiting’ and ‘Ava’ are vulnerable sounding ballads that each bring something different to the table. If there’s weakness it’s in the shorter interlude tracks, which are musically adept but find themselves feeling out of place – case-in-point being ‘Whitewater’, which sounds brooding and ominous only to lead right into the sprightly, almost punk-y sounding ‘Hot Pink.’ Tonal mismatches aside, though, Let’s Eat Grandma more or less hit the nail on the head with their sophomore effort. It’s brazen and imaginative, but also wholly accessible. It builds on the project’s meeker indie roots by branching out into more accessible territory, without ever selling out or betraying the group’s identity. In short, it’s a shining example of personal and musical growth. There’s something to be said for toeing the line between fervent experimentation and enjoyable song craft; here, Let’s Eat Grandma walk it effortlessly.