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Let’s Eat Grandma - I’m All Ears Music Album Reviews

Let’s Eat Grandma - I’m All Ears Music Album Reviews
The second album from the UK duo is future-pop at its best: kaleidoscopic production and incisive lyrics that swirl into marvelous, breathtaking songs.

In Let’s Eat Grandma’s vision of utopia, some days you might look like an alien; others, you wake up invisible. In a recent interview, the British duo—Jenny Hollingworth and Rosa Walton, both 19 and friends since kindergarten—wrestled with the limits of gender as identity. Life would make more sense, they suggested, if physical appearances warped constantly to represent one’s inner self. Rather than be a body, said Walton, “I wanna be a concept.” If you’ve existed as a teenager, you can probably relate; now imagine releasing an album of self-described “experimental sludge pop” as a pair of 16-year-olds dressed like haunted twin dolls. The response was predictable: adult critics shocked that teenage girls could make music at all, let alone music this trippy.

That resistance to easy interpretation extends all the way to the name itself—which, granted, doesn’t exactly gesture towards virtuosity on first glance. “It’s a punctuation joke,” Hollingworth explained—an Eats, Shoots & Leaves type deal where one misplaced comma turns a dinner invite (“Let’s eat, Grandma!”) into a horror movie. But beyond an inside joke, the shape-shifting name embodies LEG’s creative ethos, slyly expanding on conventional notions of how music made by girls “should” sound. Their second album takes matters a step further. I’m All Ears doesn’t just defy demographic stereotypes—it sounds like nothing else in pop right now.

I, Gemini, the duo’s 2016 debut, felt childlike in the sense that it was quite literally written by children; back then, Walton and Hollingworth’s helium-pitch voices gave the impression of cartoon mice, even as they sang about dead cats and radioactive mushrooms. Mileage may have varied depending on one’s tolerance for freak-folk or dadaist poetry, but clearly this wasn’t amateur hour. Guiding LEG’s voracious instrumental experiments (glockenspiels, recorders, motherfucking KAZOOS) was a sense of total control. If anything, I, Gemini’s everything-at-once psychedelia spoke directly to the feeling of being a young teenager—a kaleidoscope of unknowns, as terrifying as it is cool.

Two years later, I’m All Ears delivers on its predecessor’s promise, and though its songs are coated with newfound gloss, they’re just as much of a trip. That much was clear from the first single, “Hot Pink”—a sighing, snarling pop banger, co-produced by SOPHIE alongside the Horrors’ Faris Badwan, that weaponizes the femininity that’s been leveled against the duo. “I’m just an object of disdain to you,” they sing jointly, their voices sickly sweet. “I’m only 17, I don’t know what you mean.” For a SOPHIE production, it’s relatively subdued, until the chorus shatters into sounds of breaking glass and failing machinery as the duo’s delivery bristles. “HOT PINK! Is it mine, is it?” they yelp, flipping the hue of drug-store lipstick and Barbie convertibles into a battle cry. The coexistence of hard and soft isn’t a study in contrasts but in synthesis, merging the two modes until you can’t tell where hard ends and soft begins.

That song’s final chorus is interrupted by a phone call, the first of many moments on I’m All Ears where technology casts an uncanny glow. Pizzicato strings re-imagine a ringtone on the “Missed Call (1)” interlude, and “It’s Not Just Me”—a gently glitched-out synth-pop number, and the album’s second SOPHIE/Badwan production—includes a profoundly Gen Z farewell: “I don’t wanna say goodbye/I guess I’ll see you when the screen is vibrating.” Translating our virtual lives into compelling art is a challenge that often leaves me cold; how do you convey the humanity of a conversation carried out in text bubbles without sounding corny? But I’m All Ears renders flattened communication as poignant, striking not because of the novelty of being made by teenagers but because it speaks with such commanding precision to the experience of a teenager in 2018. In that sense, the album’s pop synthetics aren’t such a drastic departure from LEG’s previous work; they heighten the surreal feeling of paradigm-shifting emotional experiences that transpire on a screen in your hand.

But despite the boldness of the production—uninhibited but never excessive, veering from Goblin-esque prog to pristine dance-pop to sludgy psych, sometimes in the same track—the album’s most mind-bending moments happen in Walton and Hollingworth’s writing. “Falling Into Me,” an ecstatic, street-lit roller-disco epic, opens with some of the most evocative lyrics I’ve heard all year: “I paved the backstreets with the mist of my brain/I crossed the gap between the platform and train.” (Amid all the headiness, three simple words later in the chorus—“You/Me/This”—are just as effective in describing the headrush of new romance.) And over the sullen guitar chords of “Cool & Collected,” LEG articulate the anxiety of feeling like a charmless nerd in front of your crush better than I’ve ever heard: “I still blur in the haze that you cut straight through.”

Rather than get lost in these insecurities, LEG uses them as fuel, embracing uncertainty as a psychedelic experience in its own right. And where “Cool & Collected” wallows, album closer “Donnie Darko” practically levitates. Listless midsummer psych-pop climaxes into strobing, cerebral ’80s disco for the home stretch of the 11-plus minute suite; we are left with Walton and Hollingworth lying on the tile of their bathroom floor, heads spinning, drunk with emotion. I imagine the scene illuminated just like the video for “Hot Pink,” where phone screens and secret rooms beam with an irresistible glow, feminine and sinister and ultimately unresolved—the girls disappear into a bright pink room, and that’s the last we see.

All of this reminds me that before it became known as the official shade of prescribed femininity, hot pink meant provocation. “Shocking pink” was introduced to the fashion world in the 1930s as the signature color of surrealist designer Elsa Schiaparelli, who collaborated with Salvador Dalí and, as a child, buried flower seeds in her nose and ears in an attempt to grow a garden on her face. Her designs were as weird as they were womanly, and shocking pink was no exception: “Bright, impossible, impudent, becoming, life-giving,” she once lovingly described it. You could say the same thing of Let’s Eat Grandma, whose bold, tender music at once captures teenage girlhood and transcends it entirely. I can’t imagine what they’ll do next.

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