If you only listened to the first 30 seconds of Jockstrap’s extraordinary debut album, you might deduce that I Love You Jennifer B is a gentle folk record. But Georgia Ellery’s lilting voice singing about hills over a gently discordant acoustic guitar is a feint. Stick with it just a few seconds more and you’ll find yourself in a musical landslide where everything from Game Boy SFX and deep, throbbing dubstep to classical violin and comedy vocal effects collide into each other – often within a single track.
Ellery is accompanied by fellow Guildhall graduate Taylor Skye on production and together they pan for nuggets of sound that have never been put together before. Everything that makes a noise is fair game as they plunder every genre for a possible production style here, a unique chord progression there. I Love You Jennifer B should sound like a nightmare – and sometimes it does – but there’s a current of fun that holds it all together: the cartoonish chopping and reassembling of vocals reminds you that this album is not as po-faced or art-school as it might sound on paper. Though their influences range from the classic songwriting of Stevie Wonder and the pop bravado of Madonna to esoteric jazz and global rhythms, you could argue that Jockstrap’s main influence is dubstep. You can hear a form of the pounding, amphetamine-adjacent, bass-heavy genre reverberating through and energising almost every track on I Love You Jennifer B – occasionally as a wink but more often as a directive to move.
Amid the chaos, the folky element endures. Ellery sings as though she’s Ophelia heading to the lake, of struggle and travel and love and hate, all underpinned by production that spins her words into different worlds. On the fantastic high point Concrete Over Water, dubstep squeals ping around military drums while Ellery weaves a haunting melody in an impossibly high register about – what? A city, a lover, self-loathing and architecture, light and dark? It plays like a search for an answer, although we never quite find out the question. “What’s it all about?” she later asks on the song of the same name, swooning over Hollywood strings and wobbling synths that capture the fragility of love: “I wrote all these songs about you.”
This complex and unsettled music reflects the complex and unsettled time we exist in, constantly changing direction just as you think you’ve got a handle on it. On Angst, time signatures are applied arbitrarily; there are celestial harp strummings and Ellery sings of organs that “bob about in the dark” as the song fades in and out of focus. It’s impossible to think of how it could fit into a playlist or anything as prosaic as a TikTok challenge. As self-identifying music nerds, Jockstrap have said that their music is best experienced in isolation: headphones on, the rest of the world blocked out.
Their debut comes across as an attempt to capture the feeling of hearing something you’ve never heard before for the first time, something you feel will change everything you thought you felt about music. It succeeds. The mosaic effect is disorienting but makes a weird kind of subconscious sense, like a Dalí film or a half-remembered dream. Genre-mashing is commonplace in today’s pop but often leads to a lot of mushy, indistinct music. Jockstap, though, are the platonic ideal of a genre-splicing band. There is no way to describe them without invoking playlists-worth of their forebears – but then there is no obvious way to describe them at all. Jockstrap have invented a new musical language: perhaps we need a new spoken one to fully give them their dues.