Album Review: The Jezabels – The Brink

Mellower successor to 2011’s ‘Prisoner’ sees Jezabels coming out of a frantic year of touring with hard-earned, contented grins on their faces.

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Although there’s a clutch of songs on ‘The Brink’ that rock in just the same way as the general mood of ‘Prisoner’, ‘The Brink’ is a much poppier affair, with Heather Shannon’s keyboards to the fore and Sam Lockwood’s guitars playing a more supporting role. In fact, lead single “The End” was a slightly misleading first salvo with its guitar-heavy intro and choruses – it’s only really album opener “The Brink” and “Got Velvet” that wholeheartedly share that style. Sure, ‘Prisoner’ had its fair share of reflective moments, such as the lovely “Austerlitz”, but this LP carries a strong sense of happiness; somewhat tired and after-the-strain, but happiness none the less.

Without a doubt my absolute stand-out, hands-down, no going back, favourite track off the album is “Beat To Beat”. It’s a scorcher of a tune – utterly danceable with colossal, elastic drums running circles around ringing guitars and fuzzy, uplifting synths. The verse comes in two phases, minutely and expertly adjusted from first time to second with rising vocals from Hayley Mary. “What am I crying about ?” she sings “Are you afraid of the dark ?”. Then the explosive chorus bursts into life, propelled by Nik Kaloper’s drums and irresistible synth riffs that intersperse Mary’s ecstatic cries, “on the busy streets/the general apathy/washed over me/I gotta make it out/from beat to beat/we find our own melody”.

In the publicity surrounding the album the band have mentioned the strain of last year’s incessant touring; there’s no effort to solicit sympathy, just to explain that the album was born out of the hard work of so much playing, hard work that was where the band felt at home. You can hear them explore what that year took out of them on songs like “Time To Dance” and, whether it is obvious or not, in the title of “Psychotherapy”. Although the instrumental moments in “Time To Dance” can feel a little underwhelming, it’s a lovely ballad to the power of finding the room for yourself, the quest to “bring my passion back” when “drifting with my mental health”. “When you work so hard/What the fuck’s the point in having all that gas ?” they ask over echoing Edge-like guitars, “hey come on baby/when’s the second chance ?”.

Although it features one or two cheesy moments (does anyone really say “fricking” outside of the Austin Powers films ?), “Look Of Love” builds from staccato synths into a big, bold chorus  with the kind of powerful guitars that fans will be familiar with. You know “The End” well enough, of course: crashing waves of guitars announcing its arrival before the lovely lilting pop of the verse. The way in which Heather Shannon’s keyboards gently move forwards in the mix reaches its divine apex at the start of the second verse. Listen at 1:35 after “you gave me a hand/I gave you dirt”. And there’s that sense of triumph through adversity again, “pulling me back from the brink”. It’s a single every bit as potent as “Endless Summer”. Title track and opener “The Brink” kicks off like they never went away, “hard on the pedal/hand on her fella”. Kaloper’s drumming urgent and powerful, choppy guitars from Lockwood and the promise to “make a rock and roller of you, son”. “Got Velvet” is the final of the more rocking tunes, hot on the heels of “The End”, emerging slowly into pounding drums and keys. “Well bravo, you lit a light in my life” it begins, and you imagine that this is a paying of tribute, but no – “you were just like the government/lying all the time” and the song’s characters are “fighting infidelity” through a chorus of that same thunderous combination of instruments.

I have literally no idea what “No Country” is all about: it’s a mish-mash of Hollywood plot points and themes led by a strange appropriation of the opening rhythms of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. Whatever Hayley Mary’s point is it’s during the litany of people “in chains” intoned over chiming guitars that the song gains a slow-burning mantra-like intensity.

“All You Need” is the perfect album closer: “when skies are grey/you had a different point of view/I had no faith/until I stuck a coin in you”. It’s the kind of anthemic last song that Arcade Fire have made such a habit of recording – gentle washes of synths, shivering drums, and sweetly reverberating guitars building through slow, soft verses into full choruses and a gradually distorting coda before a vortex of guitars burns out.

In terms of what you can see and hear so far, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait a little while before you can get more than a sample of the rest of the album. ‘Look Of Love’ is slated to be the next single, although without a date, and the album is currently planned for release on 18 February. That’s a lot of patience you are going to have to exercise. While you anticipate the main event entertain yourselves with the video for “The End” and a webisode about their time in the studio.

p.s. I adore the cover art.

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