I’ve been grumping a bit lately about how the album has started to slip out of our pop cultural conversation, except for the newsiest of newsmakers, and the buzziest of buzz bands. But what album would I choose to talk about, given the chance to do so on the website of an actual publication, you might ask? Let me tell you!
Recently, I’ve been listening obsessively to Wormfood, the first proper record from Detroit band Jamaican Queens, who formed just last year. It was self-released at the beginning of March, and given the short attention span of the web, I wonder if it’s already been ignored and forgotten? It’s a bit of an overstatement to say that no one has paid attention to the band so far (but thanks for reading!). Their reputation is building, and they’ve been invited to do a few magazine video sessions, and such. But the full album certainly deserves more acclaim than it’s gotten.
Let’s listen to a couple tracks below, and discuss…
The album’s lead-off track, “Water”, is fairly lo-fi, but it has a admirably grand pop sweep. You can hear traces of the first Eno record in the way Ryan Spencer pouts out the title word, but it better resembles that great first TV on the Radio EP, before they turned into a more forceful live band and their ideas were slightly bigger than their grasp. It’s sexually frank without sinking to shock, sincere in its delivery without being emo, melodically inventive in its layering, and just catchy as hell.
Even though they sound very much of their time (when we look back, there’s going to be a bright pre- and post-Dirty Projectors dividing line for vocals in independent music), weirdly the band they’re most reminding me of are the short-lived, sainted Montreal group, The Unicorns. The two groups don’t sound that much alike. They’re seperated by 10 full years of shifts in indie aesthetics. But they’ve got a similar spirit. Both are gleefully morbid, though in a palatable pop sort of way. Listen to the sorta-sweet love ballad above as it flies into a bizarre digression of suicide and being eaten by a girlfriend’s household pets. Wormfood‘s title track, a sub-one minute goof on how we should cheer up because everyone’s going to die, is the only moment that could have slipped onto Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone? without anyone noticing. But both bands, crucially, are clearly infatuated with the rap music of their young adulthood, using it as inspiration for their own work in a way that never becomes actively embarrassing.
The press blurbs Jamaican Queens’ folks have cobbled together focus primarily on the Southern rap aspirations of the band’s clipped, synthetic beats. A made up buzz-genre, “trap pop” has been coined, by the band itself it seems, as if listeners might think they’d mistakenly hit play on a lost Gucci Mane track. And while the beats do feel fresh and notable in this context, that approach seems misguided, like something the band will still be trying to shake off in 10 years. It doesn’t really get at what’s good about Wormfood, or prepare you for a much wider set of appealing, unpredictable influences. (Oh, man, that weird ethereal melody that shines into the album track “Wellfleet Outro” straight off an an oddball Ennio Morricone film score from the 60s just kills me!) You could call it indie-pop, if you wanted. I’d say it’s the freshest debut record I’ve heard all year, and leave it at that.