Grace Ives: Janky Star Album Review

Grace Ives works on a miniature scale. The New York musician’s early releases include an album of chirping ringtones and a covers EP of nursery rhymes for children. Built for simplicity and repetition, these were fertile testing grounds for the synthesizer enthusiast. Pounding with distorted vocals and a buzzing bassline, “Row Row Row (Your Boat)” is transformed into something like a Arular spout; After all, electropop legend MIA was the inspiration for Ives’ favorite synth, the Roland MC-505. She only used that groovebox and wrote and produced the entirety of 2019 2nd, a pocket-sized collection of pop songs featuring girl-group harmonies, skittish drum-n-bass beats and Daft Punk robotics in just 22 minutes. on Janky StarIves broadens her sound – adding guitar and piano and layering her dynamic vocals – without sacrificing brevity, and fitting bigger ideas into the same compact frame. It’s one of the best little pop albums of the year.

on Janky Star, Ives searches for slowness and tranquility, no small task for a musician who experiences ‘sensory overload’ for two minutes from every song. But she sounds convincingly calm at a leisurely pace, starting with the opening synths, languid and watery, on “Isn’t It Lovely.” “You’re such a starry night baby/I can look up and relax,” she sings like a hypnotic mantra, like a spirit guide still clinging to her own ego. “Lazy Day” Sneaks Down an R&B Groove Like a CrazySexyCool b-side as she praises the sobriety and the unhurried search for meaning. “It feels good to repeat it,” she says, aware of the pressure of constant forward momentum.

At other times she gives in to her restless energy, such as on the alt-pop romp ‘On the Ground’. But even here, the beat is reverent to her voice: “Hold it,” she commands, before a cascade of Omnichord-esque synths kicks in. But her best songs span both modes: “Loose”, the lead single from Janky Star, begins with the familiar thumps and bleeps of her 505, her vocals syncopated like a cover of “It’s a Small World,” performed in a SUNY Purchase basement. But things crack open in the chorus, her voice unfurling over breakbeats – “I’ve been loose/Every night,” she cooed, jumping back into her animatronic stance after the chorus’s final instruction: “Wind me tight. ” The song calls back to “Mirror”, the stand out closer of 2ndwho similarly tempered her sequencer’s snap with stoned, sleepy vocals.

Her voice – versatile, elastic – bends into every role in her ever-expanding one-woman show: the nostalgic romantic who watches sunsets and sings wispy falsettos on “Lullaby,” the melodramatic Valley Girl (“Like, oh my God“) is “loose”. Justin Raise, Janky Star‘s co-producer, provides a richer background for her flexible vocals, going beyond her Roland to include guitar, piano and percussion. Raisen, who helped create the sounds of Sky Ferreira, Kim Gordon, Yves Tumor and Charli XCX, brings a similar controlled chaos to the album. “Burn Bridges” crams a slew of styles into exactly two minutes — gleaming tro-house beats, freestyle freakouts, more-than-life prog rock percussion — sometimes switching between the two within the same verse. On “Shelly”, Raisen builds out a power pop paradise with a circular guitar groove, building on a central riff like the Go-Go’s with a loop pedal. Raisen, the self-proclaimed “Dr. Dre of trash,” fits well with Ives’ experimental pop, skewing the balance with cartoonish drum fill or helium-high backing vocals when things lean toward conventional pop structures.

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