by ELI KEITH
On Friday, Sept. 9, London’s duo Jockstrap released their debut album “I Love You Jennifer B.” The long-awaited release follows three singles that appear on the album, as well as a collection of singles that date back as far as 2018.
Jockstrap is known among their fans for their orchestral, dynamic and at times psychedelic formulations, always taking full advantage of the technological advancements that have allowed today’s musicians to make music out of sounds unimaginable to artists only 15 or 20 years ago. Violinist, vocalist and songwriter Georgia Ellery and electronic producer Taylor Skye formed Jockstrap in the late 2010s after meeting at London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
While I cannot speak to the fundamental technique nor the unusual instrumentation Jockstrap employs on their new album, what I can bring to you is a guide to the ideal occasions for listening to each song: the occasion which will let the song exert its full power. “I Love You Jennifer B” is jam-packed with a wide range of bangers, and the transitions can be shocking at times. Let’s begin.
“Neon” offers a proper beginning to the album, a slow strumming accompanying Ellery’s gentle voice. The perfect occasion for this song would be right as you wake up on the first day of a zombie apocalypse and hike to the top of a nearby hill to get a view of the damage and roamers. The gloomy haze of the apocalypse sets the background as your steps align with the near-uncomfortable weight of the electric guitar riff and beating drums that lay on top of the otherwise haunting yet tame electric organ. The fluctuating moments of calm and chaos are characteristic of the entire album, though the next songs maintain the altitude that “Neon” brings us.
“Jennifer B,” the titular song, is the song that plays as you exit the highway and find yourself approaching a rapid urban downtown, dreading the traffic that is to come. Oh, the traffic! Except there is no traffic. Everything goes miraculously smoothly, on both sides of the main street rise glowing buildings and every light is green. As Ellery’s voice, the horn-sounding synth and the energetic beat all coalesce, you coast and eventually emerge onto the party district. Ellery’s voice alternates with a sampled voice that peppers in the feeling of being surrounded by dancing bodies, but why are all those people dancing? It’s all in the funky breakdown after the halfway point of the song that takes us from the earlier line “everything is good, girl, take it, leave it, let him know you do care” to “I can be a stripper if you want me to, it’s been a while since I played for you.” The song remains euphoric, but turns wild.
“Greatest Hits” keeps us in the driver’s seat, but this time it’s a race. Rainbow road, anyone? In this song, we find ourselves in space, and Ellery’s voice has a dream-like quality that lets us understand the greatness from the title as a suggestion of scale. The song builds up enough momentum that we happily stay out in orbit, carried by an electric keyboard overlaid with long notes that seem to stretch out time.
“What’s It All About?” pulls us out of orbit with an unexpected transition to a song with more down-to-earth and complete, raw lyrics. Much slower than the previous two songs, “What’s It All About?” is filled with the feeling of questioning, of confused hope. The time to listen to this song is when you share Ellery’s longing and can sit with her as she sings, “I wish you’d just touch me, and I still sit and wait, yeah I think we’d be great together.” An acoustic guitar and string instruments constitute the more somber mood of the song, and using those more traditional instruments hooks us into feeling the immense humanity of the song.
“Concrete Over Water,” one of the pre-released singles that is included on the album, is perhaps the biggest journey of the album, and you should listen to it as such. Wake up two hours before the sunrise, sit with a cup of coffee wondering what you’re doing awake so early, then leave the house anyway; you know what you’re searching for. “At night on the bridge we stood, concrete over water. I think you remind me of the night, but also of the day, I think of Italy, Champagne.” I’ll ask again: why are you up so early? It’s still nighttime, really, but you’re searching for what will bring you peak excitement: the sense of adventure you’ve lost. The song rises and falls with our intense longing and hesitance, but the sampled chants and wild array of electronic notes create a sort of constellation that lingers as the song fades away.
A record scratch at the end of “Concrete Over Water” transitions us into “Angst,” followed by a slow melody that’s reminiscent of a winding music box. “I feel sick,” begins Ellery, who speaks to us most strongly through this song in times of, you guessed it, angst. “If fear were a baby I’d name her Angst,” she sings, adding “she came out crimson on the bathroom floor.” This song is truly painful when we listen to the light beauty of the notes in stark contrast with the lyrics, and the chopped-together final verse fills the final 25 seconds with chaotic poetry. I still haven’t found a fitting environment for listening to this part of the song where it truly feels right, but perhaps that is the intention. This song is anything but comfortable.
“Debra” has a loud note of pure apocalypse at its start, upon which we learn “pain is real, love is real, but pain is also growth, and grief is just a love with nowhere to go.” The delivery of this line is long, but we get a total change of pace and mood once we’re 90 seconds in, on the receiving end of forceful metronomic beats that speed us up to both anxiety and eagerness. Whoever Debra is, it feels like we could find her roaming foreign streets, likely somewhere in Europe given Jockstrap’s English origin and the mention of Italy and Champagne earlier in the album. The combination of emotions, particularly focused on inhabiting a foreign space, makes “Debra” a perfect listen for moments of charging headfirst into something new that is somewhat scary but needs tackling nonetheless. Did someone say a hype song? Well, not quite. That’s to come.
Telling others about this album, “Glasgow” is what I have described as the most “normal” song on the album. This song was another pre-released single, and being the catchiest, it’s perfect for a long drive or journey. Chronicling a fizzled-out relationship and the life of a musician who continues to travel from city to city, it’s both a celebration and a longing for a connection with others. The emotion within the song is complex, and lines such as “I touch myself, and every time I see what’s missing from my life” are intriguing when paired with the beautiful string instruments. With this single, as well as the ones we have listened to before, we have to consider the intentions of musicians who release singles before an entire album. Apart from earning money sooner, the singles are typically emblematic of the album as a whole, if not meant to send their own message. “Glasgow” and “Concrete Over Water” pair easily in the feelings of longing and wonder, which preface the thematic emotions that appear throughout the entire album.
“Lancaster Court” is the penultimate song of the album, and it also feels best reserved for nighttime, perhaps even more suitable in the winter. I listen to it and feel the caution and fear of grabbing an icicle that I don’t want to shatter in the process. Then, out of nowhere come two massive bass drum hits. This song shows Ellery’s voice off the most as it is, accompanied only by an acoustic guitar, a flute and occasional light percussion instruments, as if her voice functions more as an instrument itself rather than a means to communicate lyrics. This song does have lyrics, but I rarely listen to them; the song could be instrumental and I would enjoy it just as much.
“50/50 – Extended Mix” is contagious and indulgent, feeling as though Jockstrap had a lot of momentum going for this album but only one song slot left and decided to put all the juice into the final track. A shorter version of the song was released as a single before the album, but that version is considerably shorter and edited differently. I wouldn’t jump into a dance circle to the single version, but I would for this album closer, and I’m not a dancer. The beginning of the song is admittedly annoying, unless you like random shouting, but after those initial seconds Jockstrap sends a groove to our bones that leaves us vibrating long after the song ends; the album over all too soon.