Thursday, February 28, 2019

album review: '-' by jetty bones

Yeah, we're going back into Bandcamp for this one - and yet before we begin, here's a quick observation. One thing I've noticed about a site where indie artists can literally upload damn near anything is that you don't especially find a massive pileup of undiscovered quality, even among the promoted material. If anything, it becomes all the more proof that's there's a normal curve to the quality: a metric ton of stuff that is decent or passable, not a lot of outright trash but also not a lot of immediate standouts. And more to the point, it becomes all the more rare you find talent that's immediately magnetic in front of the microphone - especially in indie pop where desaturated non-effort is the norm, not the exception.

Enter Jetty Bones, the project of an Ohio singer-songwriter Kelc Galluzzo who approaches indie pop rock with what I'd call a mid-2000s sensibility: strident vocals, a focus on hooks over vibes, and the sort of overwritten but biting lyrics that owe a noticeable debt to Paramore and the left-of-center emo that broke in the waves of Say Anything. Yeah, her debut Crucial States in 2016 had a rough case of what I'd describe as 'theater girl voice' and I thought the album could have afforded to be a bit longer - similar concerns I've got about this project here as well and the EP she put out in 2017 - but the writing and her knack for hooks was enough to get me on board, so screw it - what did we get from '-'?

So this is a fairly interesting project, mostly because it's the sort of thing I'm surprised we don't see more of, especially in the wake of what acts like Paramore have released in the past few years: a project that despite much of its indie pop leanings probably is best categorized as an emo album, or at least rooted in much of the same writing style and timbre. And yeah, just like the last project, I really liked it - although I might add that it does suffer from some of the issues that I'd tack onto the last two projects, especially tied to brevity - but I will say there's more of an arc and progression to '-' that makes it compelling, especially if you dig into the details.

And yet the funny thing is that for as much as I'm going to praise it for those details in a minute, the first thing I find so striking is how both in- and out-of-place this project feels with the rest of what really is a male-dominated genre. I've already mentioned Paramore as a comparison point, but that's more because, even with the underground acts I know, there aren't many parallels - the vocals aren't leaning into either a bratty or willowy or rougher alternative timbre, there's a natural but trained theatricality that Galluzzo has that drew the 'theater girl' comparison, and for the most part I mean that as a compliment as the writing matures and her delivery picks up more subtlety, especially with the multi-tracking that shows a parallel to the pop rock of the mid-2000s. And Galluzzo has such a striking, singular voice that you can forgiven for forgetting there's a band behind her, and it's a band with good production instincts and compositional chops - there are hooks here! Now I will echo my complaint from previous projects that this does feel too short - it's under twenty minutes, and while it's cramming in a lot of ideas it can definitely feel like an EP more than a full album - but keep in mind that's a complaint that comes with wanting to hear more! That said, there's a lot of ideas being wedged in here that a little more room to breathe and develop would do a lot of good, and it's hard to avoid the impression the group is trying to make each individual cut stand out despite possibly compromising cohesion. There's some whiplash between the sullen bassy smolder of "better" and misty twinkles of 'the part:' that ends with fragmented synthetic retorts, and the warmer acoustics of the second half of the album that owe more than a few passing glances at the last Lydia Loveless album. And there are a few other things I could definitely nitpick: I'd probably have preferred live drums instead of the drum machine that opens up "better", 'the part:' definitely can meander a bit and I'd like to see songs like 'To Know You...' get a bit more development, especially given the twinkling warmth of the pianos balanced against the fuzzed out riffs, but that's more because there's a very welcome balance between real melodies and solid grooves and I think more of these cuts could hit more climaxes.

But if I'm going to highlight what really grabbed me about this album, it's the writing, plain and simple. I'm always going to be a fan of a well-structured melodic and poetic cadence, but where this album shoots higher comes in the emotional complexity and maturity that's been the biggest strength coming from third-wave emo and one Jetty Bones delivers in spades. "better" is the obvious standout, diving deep into the mess of gaslighting and messy reinforcement from both family and friends who have no idea of how bad things have gotten in an abusive relationship, and how much of it is only repressed and reinforced by her own disbelief that it could never happen to her, right? It's an entry point at rock bottom and there's a real arc to her trying to rebuild the necessary connections both to get out and find genuine friends, but the overthought writing makes it clear none of that comes easy. 'Bringing It Up' is on the cusp of an argument she knows could go nuclear but reflect how it won't get better if honesty isn't on the table, and the same ream of messy miscommunications - and lack of communication that shows everything spiraling towards an unnecessary ending on 'the part:'... at least in her eyes. But '(jogging)' highlights just how much she persisted in a haze of non-action, and when something warm and natural begins to emerge on 'To Know You...', the writing so aptly captures the hesitation and uneasy trust slowly being built with a genuine sweetness that cuts to the core of the emotion. But then you have 'The Rest Of Them.', one of the most perplexing but potent songs where she faces those who might compromise her trust again - to say nothing of her own insecurities and self-doubt - but she's made the step to forgive the abuser in her past and move forward to either 'give up or give in' - the feelings towards this new person is more concrete and she's in control and aware of her own impulses and feelings. The power of this project comes in claiming autonomy against those who would use and abuse your emotions, and while you might still succumb, I like the ambiguity that comes with it being her own choice, and I really like how the ending is left open. I mentioned Lydia Loveless before and there's a similar emotional intelligence and arc on her album Real that parallels this project - and yes, that's high praise indeed!

So yeah, it's a short one and I'm probably most comfortable calling it an EP than a full album, but it's a damn great one and definitely is worth more consideration. Jetty Bones has been on a roll with these projects, and I think they've got the capacity for a truly transcendent full album - as it is, this just leaves me hungry for more and giving it an 8/10. Definitely get the time to look this up, because you won't hear much in emo or even indie pop rock like it, and that's pretty damn special.

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