One of 2014’s most surprising debut albums came from a foursome based out of Leeds calling themselves, in a most fantastic and misleading fashion, Adult Jazz. Their album, Gist Is, was reminiscent of many art pop artists that came before, but still caught on with listeners due to its tonally challenging, vocally florid, experimental tracks. That adventurous streak makes any sophomore album a challenge, and instead of seeking repetition, Adult Jazz have progressed even further into uncharted territory with their new mini-album, Earrings Off!.
The result is an album that tosses aside the peaceful patience and acoustic ambience that comforted so well on Gist Is. Instead, Adult Jazz inject a striking immediacy with abrupt percussion and brash samples. This is the group’s first release on Tri Angle Records, putting them in good company among experimental outfits like Forest Swords and The Haxan Cloak. That isn’t to say, though, that Adult Jazz have ditched their path in favor of a trek in the wilderness. The core of what made Gist Is work is here, but now they’ve tilted everything slightly for a new angle.
As the band wrote on their Tumblr when announcing the album, “[The songs on Earrings Off!] kind of hang on the ideas of how we teach, incentivize, and enforce gender, and whether we observe vs. assemble our selfhood.” Thematically, this idea holds throughout. From the outside looking in, or upon first listen, Adult Jazz can seem overwhelming or confusing, influences and sounds coming at you from all sides. But once you’re immersed and can catch hold of the music, it’s fearless. That shift aims to represent and empower those exploring the fluidity and meaning of identity and gender.
Adult Jazz thrive in the midst of different and often conflicting sonic elements that might not even be perceived as musical if they were isolated. Take, for instance, the bright and discordant brass samples that herald in “Earrings Off!” or the squeaky rotations that underlie “Eggshell”. Adult Jazz create impossible melodies and make them work, and a great deal of this is owed to Harry Burgess’ assured and lovely vocals, which often carry tracks despite the production’s free will.
Gist Is was a welcome exploration of these concepts, and where it was fully realized at nine tracks, Earrings Off! barely breaks the EP classification with six, and even that includes three brief instrumental interludes. It’s too brief for a solid statement, and subsequently its release seems a bit rushed. Our patience would have well been given for something more substantial.
That being said, Earrings Off! does have its memorable moments. The title track is playfully textured and clearly very impassioned. The bouncy percussion in the chorus is captivating for its breathlessness as well as its childishness, and despite this, it does well to open the floor to questioning how society perceives gender. “Eggshell” reaches deep within to find something base and primitive to make its head bob along with yours. Burgess’ voice here is digitized and distorted, but still remains delightful. The album’s highlight is “Ooh Ah Eh”, which is initially composed solely of heavily digitized vocal samples that achieve the seemingly impossible task of creating a melody out of repeating the song’s title. The track takes its time to grow naturally and builds suspense, and when Burgess does sing, he sings purely without obvious distortion, making for a fascinating listen.
Even with misgivings about the lack of length and focus, this mini-LP makes fairly clear that Adult Jazz are in a transitional state. Earrings Off! is too small to be called a sophomore slump, and it introduces new elements to the band’s repertoire that could easily play well with the best aspects of Gist Is. What’s next will hopefully be a bold combination of the two. Although, knowing Adult Jazz, it could be a complete change of direction again, which would still be just as captivating.
Essential Tracks: “Earrings Off!”, “Eggshell”, and “Ooh Ah Eh”