Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Review: Jane Woody - Big Breaths Little Lungs

Mel Ralph has been playing around Brisbane under the moniker of Jane Woody for a few good years now, ever since she left I Heart Hiroshima and DIY-heroes Kicks in the middle of this decade. A few months ago she released her debut album Big Breaths Little Lungs on the local Valve label, and... well, that's about it. I've barely heard anything from her since then (I think she perhaps played a few shows around the time of its release, and her myspace indicates that she has since been out of the city / in Alice Springs?).

The one mention of her I came across was a lukewarm review of the album in a local street press, which essentially said that the record was perhaps overly lo-fi and samey. Because of this I first listened to Big Breaths Little Lungs expecting something consisting mostly of rough acoustic guitars, tape hiss and timid vocals; what I actually found was quite an accomplished sounding indie-pop record featuring drum machines, punk guitars, keyboards... and timid vocals. It's not Sergeant Peppers, but neither is it a Daniel Johnston cassette. The nearest comparison I can come up with is An Horse backed by Baltimore's Casiotone For The Painfully Alone - introspective, lovelorn pop that mixes the ramshackle nature of DIY with something a little bit more tech-savvy.

The album starts out with it's most overtly DIY sounding track in the 47 second long 'Coblers Pegs', which features vaguely out of tune guitars playing a rudimentary 4-note melody over a cheap sounding Casio beat. 'Decide' follows up with something more substantial, all driving Ramones-punk guitars and a simple drum beat. It's a subtly catchy number that finds the middle ground between I Heart Hiroshima and Sekiden (with Ralph's Angie Hart-esque vocals). On the other side of the coin, third track 'Now You've Fucked It Entirely' is a more downbeat, electronic sounding track. From there the album continues with most of the elements introduced in those first three tracks, most songs consisting of various combinations of guitars (sometimes strummed and acoustic, sometimes driving and distorted, sometimes nimble and clean), synth-pop keys and drum machines moving along at a medium tempo plus or minus a few bpm. My personal favourite track would be 'Bruises', a song that starts out as just guitar and vocals but gradually introduces sheets of guitar noise and rhythms, eventually building to something that almost sounds like it could fit on My Bloody Valentine's Isn't Anything. Penultimate track 'City' is notably different from the rest of the album - while it starts out with another Casio drum beat, instead of introducing a pop melody it does away with vocals entirely and places the focus on some slinky synth lines and guitars for the first half, before finishing with some interestingly treated electronic drums. It sounds more like some IDM/post-rock thing than bedroom pop.

The minimalist tendencies of Ralph's previous bands (the aforementioned I Heart Hiroshima and Kicks) are still very evident in Jane Woody Big Breaths Little Lungs, with most of the songs clocking in between 1:30 and 2:30 and rarely consisting of anything more than a verse riff and a chorus riff. Indeed, the album itself is somewhat short, but in a good way - I imagine that if it were any longer its charms could well start wear thin and it may become guilty of the accusations of being somewhat samey. As it is, this certainly isn't an 'exciting' album in any way, it won't get you pumping your metaphorical (or actual) fists, though if you give it the chance it will probably make you do an awkward little dance around your bedroom on a Sunday morning. That's the sort of record this is, it's a charming little piece of pop that's perfect for lazing around at home with on the weekend.

1 comment:

Murdoch said...

Have you heard her Exit To Dos EP? Would you say the album is in a similar vein? Sounds like it is, but thought I'd ask for the comparison. I enjoyed ETD.