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Ian Sweet - Crush Crusher Music Album Reviews

After returning to solo status as a bandleader, Jilian Medford drops the spiky singing style that was her trademark, finding a softer delivery within the darkened corners of dream pop.

The premise of Crush Crusher, the second album by Ian Sweet, reads like the tagline for a Meg Ryan rom-com that will, as always, end well: “Jilian Medford is on her own… again.” After several years with a trio, the Ian Sweet founder went solo after her bandmates went misogynistic. This isn’t altogether unfamiliar territory for Medford, who began the band as a solo project while attending Berklee College of Music. Still, she sounds wary of how everything will turn out—her love life, her anxiety, her self-worth. Crush Crusher captures Ian Sweet during a growth spurt, and, in spite of some growing pains, Medford embraces the change, pushing herself as a singer, songwriter, and musician pursuing independence.

Until now, Ian Sweet’s trademark has been Medford’s spiky singing style. Her voice rocketed into squeaky bursts that were dramatic and playful, like a child being tickled. The sound carried the melodies on her 2014 debut and subsequently separated Ian Sweet from their peers on 2016’s Shapeshifter. Melodramatic guitars countered what could have been a crutch, and they fed off one another. Alone for Crush Crusher, Medford tries something different: a softer, breathier delivery that elongates in pools of reverb. Lyrically, the album is about insecurities and the burden of carrying a loved one’s feelings (see “Ugly/Bored” or “Borrowed Body”), but the straightforward way Medford sings about those subjects spotlights an increasing self-assurance that bolsters her words.

This shift in style, plus slimming the band from three to one, opened more space in these songs, which Medford fills with guitar amps. Inspired by the synth-heavy sway of Peter Gabriel and the gruffness of Crass, Ian Sweet veers here into the noisier side of dream pop, immediately seeking its darker corners. The riff-centric “Spit” gnarls its way through some of Medford’s best guitarwork, drifting toward Slint. “Crush Crusher” tries out electronic drum pads for a groove that recalls Autolux. These gloomy tones sometimes make the songs fade into one another like infinite shades of gray, especially when her voice recedes into the background. But when it’s front and center, as on “Hiding,” the two complement one another. With every reprise of “I forgot myself in you” during the chorus, Medford does the opposite, stepping into the spotlight and away from the shadows of her past.

Crush Crusher asks questions of and frets over transition: “Did you get out of your head to get into mine?” Medford sings in “Borrowed Body.” She doesn’t offer the answers because she’s still figuring them out. What makes Crush Crusher notable and compelling is the confidence she displays in spite of what she doesn’t know about now or the future. She pulls her softer singing style to the forefront. She struts from noisy indie rock into dream pop. She commits to change, even while admitting her faults.

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