Album Review: Alex Jayne – The Blue EP

[Self-released; 2021]

“2020 feels like a big one.” That was London-based musician Alex Jayne on her Facebook profile on New Year’s Eve, unaware as we all were of how 2020 wouldn’t quite turn out as planned. It’s a now all too well-known and repeated story now of tours, recording sessions, and life in general being cancelled. Jayne’s words and sentiment read like an unknowing, skewed punchline now, the cruel dark joke being the hopes and aspiration of the masses struck off the record.

It wasn’t a fruitless year for Jayne though, as she released a series of singles across 2020, re-establishing herself as an artist as her releases beforehand flew under the radar. Lockdown brought out a creative streak for Jayne too; her debut body of work The Blue EP was written during this time. “These songs came from the quiet. From the space between life at 100mph to sudden stillness,” she says of the EP. On the four songs here she flits between the moody, hazy clouds of a darkened room that sounds filled with cigarette smoke to the clouds in the sky itself.

Of the two sides of the coin Jayne presents, the darker side is undoubtedly the more alluring. EP highlight “Shapes” repeats a percolating, icy guitar riff that plunges the track into the surrounding freezing atmosphere each time it loops. Writing about breaking free from societal ideals and expectations, Jayne sings with a detachment that fits the music, like she’s becoming some kind of ghostly apparition to the tangible world around her. “All these shapes I see / They don’t look like me,” she observes like she’s losing focus and about the space out.

Opening track “Hollywood” comes nearest in terms matching the more sullen tone of “Shapes”, but only in the slightest sense. “Hollywood”‘s guitars are tinged with a hint of a grungy texture and a rumbling percussive track that keeps itself to the background, but the song takes a brighter road (which is fitting as Jayne sings of the allure of the luminous lights of the titular location). “A dream on the edge of darkness,” she tempts, capturing the essence of the song but also the feel of her music at its best. At its most enticing, the sound here feels like it could submerge itself in a darker hue, but too often Jayne holds to her buoyant alt-pop sound to carry her.

Rosier and warmer tracks of these sorts here are fine, but also nothing more than that. A song like “The Blue” feels on the cusp of soaring instead of actually doing so. A self-professed breakup anthem exploring how the future eludes and evades us, the song feels frustratingly void of a memorable human touch; if there’s despair or desolation here, it glides over the head of the listener.

Final track “Lucky Side” fares that bit better, wrapped up in the feel of a half-remembered 90s indie B-side with it’s ticking watch-like drum machine and half-swagger vocal delivery – but again it is missing that ingredient to make it skyrocket (or even feel like it could). “I just wanna fly,” Jayne sings all too tellingly. It would be great if she did start soaring, but from her offerings on The Blue, what sounds more appealing is the prospect of her sinking into deeper, darker textures and exploring gloomier atmospheres.