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Grace Ives - 2nd Music Album Reviews

The Queens-based songwriter offers nervy lo-fi synth pop that buzzes with everyday anxiety.

Most contemporary synthesizer music flows down one of two channels: There's dance music, which aims to set the body in motion, and then there's the now-ubiquitous scourge of “chill,” ambient music’s corporate descendant that guides the body to a state of rest and/or productive concentration. Queens-based songwriter Grace Ives maps her music to a third coordinate. Her new album 2nd is restless, seeking neither catharsis or sedation but instead exploring the gradations of thrumming anxiety.


This is a little like what James Murphy does with LCD Soundsystem, and a few of Ives’ new songs, like “Icing on the Cake,” recall his work. But where Murphy will stretch songs about self pity well past the seven-minute mark, Ives prefers to work in miniature. The tracks on 2nd are two minutes long, give or take; some run closer to one, and none goes longer than three. Her concision is a mark of her songwriting aptitude. She doesn't need to be verbose because she’s already said everything she needs to.

Ives’ vocal style—hushed, plaintive, and clear—evokes bedroom pop, but she is not interested in its purposefully scuffed-up sound. She produced 2nd herself, buffing the record to a gloss that flatters her simple but crystalline vocal melodies. Songs like “Butterfly” make do with just a handful of lead notes, sung first in an earthy low tone and then vaulted up an octave, Cocteau Twins-style, to a breathless head voice.

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Ives wears plenty of different masks across 2nd. She's a giddy “sucker for love” on “Butterfly,” a skulking menace while speak-singing on “Something in the Water,” an eager pugilist “looking for a fight” on “Mansion.” Her synth work shifts to accompany each character, landing low percussive throbs like jabs or sending laser-gun pew-pews streaking across the high end. One mood she never entertains is boredom, a relief given how many of her peers overindulge their ennui. Ives is always curious, always hunting for the next spark. She’s not content to complain lightly over a four-on-the-floor trot.

The smallness of these songs lends them an accessibility, even when her lyrics approach existential dread. “I had a dream/That the earth was flooded,” she sings on “Nightmare.” “It must have been because of something I was watching on TV.” How can anyone go on living when the television says the end is nigh, and yet what choice does anyone have but to go on living? Ives grapples with the sheer mundanity of our era's atmospheric doom. She has no answers, but she's keeping a level head. She’s dealing.


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