This originally appeared on GIGsoup (gigsoup.co/29stHpg ) in July 2016.
A weird and wonderful tapestry of genre – as though Lorde underwent mitosis and joined Animal Collective.
The outrageously precocious Let’s Eat Grandma are Jenny Hollingworth and Rosa Walton, two teenage multi-instrumentalists from Norwich whose debut album seems destined to become one of the most alluring & unique projects of the year. Their kooky name (by no means condoning the consumption of elderly relatives) is a reference to one of the more famous illustrations of the enduring usefulness of the Oxford Comma. The album’s title – ‘I, Gemini’ – itself seems like a nod to the two being constantly mistaken for twins (they’re not related, to clarify). They make synth-drenched experimental pop – filled with captivating melodies undercut by a nameless darkness, like a half-remembered fairy tale.
The two have an undeniable chemistry, and are adept at crafting otherworldly soundscapes as though it were second nature to them. Their freewheeling approach to genre and structure is something to behold, given their relative naïvety. What’s clear, even after a few listens, is their keen sense of the sonic potential of language, how it can be bent and shaped in the service of a particular aesthetic. The crackling of their accents, as well as the (frequently eerie) similarities between their singing voices are deployed to astonishing effect throughout the album’s diverse, brisk 48 minutes. The kaleidoscopic production can be slow and trundling, yet impossible to pin down – often swelling suddenly with a sharp interjection of the pair’s stirring vocals.
Ambitiously structured lead single, ‘Eat Shiitake Mushrooms’, is an ideal example of this arresting methodology. A delicate, slightly atonal glockenspiel glides along on sustained synths, before some enterprising percussion anticipates the vocals. Both voices are expertly layered upon one another, culminating in a rap interlude (yeah), that feels jarring but is totally earned. Most tracks are genuine pageants for this sublime equilibrium between innovative production and glossy vocals – here their voices are supported by a fiendish saxophone (on ‘Sax in the City’), or here they’re imbued with a faintly oriental flourish (on ‘Chimpanzees In Canopies’). On ‘Rapunzel’, the pair refashion the familiar fairy tale into an unsettling modern context to tell the story of a girl locked in solitary confinement for thirteen years – with a dreamlike piano (slowly shaded by outlying, sinister elements) recounting the tale just as much as the lyrics do.
If anything, they should be commended for managing to use that most hellish of instruments – the recorder – to surprisingly euphonious effect. The beginning of ‘Chocolate Sludge Cake’, for instance, with its harmonised recorders, resembles the opening of some eighteen-minute saga that an American prog rock band in the 70’s would have indulged in. Instead, the track takes a bracing left turn, displaying an Animal Collective-like appetite for barely controlled anarchy – all eddying synths & glimmering vocals. While the two are indebted to pop sensibilities, there’s a compelling creepiness at work under the surface. Some tracks become slightly unnerving when jittery, anxious soundbites invade the natural flow. ‘Sleep Song’ – which seems primarily concerned with the porous state of mind that straddles dreaming and conscious thought, where things can feel slightly unreal or supernatural – features a haunting soundbite towards its climax that grips the listener, acting as a nightmarish counterpoint to the wavy synths that surround it.
This eccentricity is mirrored in the strange, almost Dalíesque lyrics & song titles. There’s a dark surrealism subtly woven into many of the tracks, their impenetrable language reminiscent of acts like Neutral Milk Hotel. The effect is similar to revisiting old fairy tales and realising how fucked up some of them actually are. ‘Welcome to the Treehouse Parts I & II’ actively confound interpretation, yet seem like the thematic key to the album; what with the warped image of a treehouse gracing the cover and the connotation of childhood treehouses as places of imaginative refuge – something organic, fashioned inorganically. The duo are still unmistakably callow, but this is an impressively accomplished debut – a rabbit hole you’ll want to fall down again and again.