Following their self-titled EP earlier this year, Ian Sweet have already described their full-length debut as a departure from their earlier work, which they felt had stronger ties with frontwoman Jillian Medford’s earlier solo stuff. Though the previous EP was certainly a good one, there was a real sense of potential for their connection as a band to grow. Shapeshifter sees that potential realised in spades.
First though, we hear ‘Pink Marker’, a pretty, intriguing, wistful solo performance from Medford that bookends the album with its more sorrowful counterpart ‘Pink Marker 2’. Rather than contradicting the aim of togetherness of the album, these are instead effective in thematically framing the album, the solo aspect making sense given that it’s an album about Medford’s depression and anxiety.
And for the much of rest of the album, every single instrument is constantly doing something totally captivating, Medford and bassist Damien Scalise knowing exactly when to have their parts run counter to each other and when to come completely together. Single ‘Slime Time Live’ is naturally a prime example of this, creating a whirling, disorientating, off-kilter effect throughout the verses with their syncopation and weird time signatures, then coming together for a chorus as huge and rich as it is beautiful. The sense of build that follows in the breakdown/outro is totally masterful, culminating in a dramatic stop followed by a major seven chord that treads just the right side of OTT and feels nothing short of magical.
The effects on Medford’s voice create a sense of distance from the imagery of the songs that mirrors perfectly the distance often felt when you try to come to terms with the reality of your own pain or something that’s happened to you, like the lethargy of her depression in ‘#23’ and the confused pain in ‘2soft2chew’. And the rich melodies and harmonies paint these pictures of immense pain in such vibrant colours that these songs feel like drowning in honey or syrup and looking up at a sunset. The imagery feels just out of focus and just out of reach, and beautiful despite their pain.
Medford’s lyrics drift effortlessly from consciously weird metaphor to incomplete glimpse of reality and back again. The TV-based pictures in ‘Slime Time Live’ and ‘#23’ sit perfectly comfortably next to each other, the former a metaphor for the confusion, chaos and sense of lack of control Medford experienced form her anxiety and depression, the latter a straightforward depiction of seeking solace from unlikely TV trapped in depression’s lethargy. For a hook on ‘#23’, Medford sings of the TV “It keeps me company”, in that moment captures the feeling of aching sadness and envelops it in vibrant, melancholic warmth. Meanwhile, ‘2soft2chew’ paints Medford’s experience of coming to terms with and moving on from an abusive relationship in a sugary nightmare, crying “I’m trying to wash my scabby knees / But you keep stopping me...Do you find this funny? My bloody knees?” Ian Sweet have crafted a collection of experiences of intense pain and sorrow into hooky pop songs, as warm as they are sweet, and often really beautiful.
8Nina Keen's Score