Jilian Medford’s journey as the dream-pop project Ian Sweet has flown under the radar for a few years now, but that’s all set to change with her third album Show Me How You Disappear. It’s the second Ian Sweet album she’s recorded solo, having jettisoned her misogynistic former bandmates after their 2016 debut, and it seems she’s coming into her own, as Disappear is a much riskier album than her previous endeavors.
In early 2020, after a few years of serious mental health issues, she checked into a facility for a two-month course to tackle them. Upon leaving, Medford explored the ways to keep herself grounded – chief among them, music, and the road to recovery has yielded Show Me How You Disappear’s 10 tiny heart-baring attacks.
While the influences on her previous work could all be traced back to hazy indie rock, here they are wide and varied, finding Medford tapping her inner Björk for some of her most fluid compositions. Ian Sweet’s 2016 debut record, Shapeshifter, leaned more noise, but Medford’s solo follow-up Crush Crusher was wholeheartedly more shoegaze and dreampop. Disappear goes further into the pop stratosphere while still maintaining Medford’s keen sense of dreamy melodies and cathartic lyrics.
Opener “My Favorite Cloud” has a droning element to it that gets pulsated by some effects, but Medford’s shrouded herself in enough feedback that it all jives appropriately. It’s an indicator that the ups and downs of being in a band and then being the band have started to illuminate the appropriate path for Ian Sweet, and “My Favorite Cloud” gives a teaser of what’s to come.
“Drink the Lake” is unquestionably one of the top moments of the album, if not of Medford’s entire career; its pristine production and strong lyrics are just the tip of the iceberg. “I’ll start saying your name / Saying your name / backwards so I’ll forget it,” is the mantra she shares, and it comes to us with a tender harmony and a consistent beat that never leaves our ears.
Now that she’s shed the unnecessary weight of her former band members, everything on Disappear feels stickier than what’s come before. Songs like “Sword” veer off into more electronic and sampling territories, hitting a note here that’s almost reminiscent of The Avalanches with its easily accessible dancefloor potential. Not only does “Sword” give us one of the groovier cuts on the album, it also pairs well with Medford’s empowering lyrics, “My body is a sword / it gets sharper when it gets ignored.” This isn’t a complete deviation from Ian Sweet’s sound, merely an expansion of her palette, and it’s welcomed.
The process for the third Ian Sweet album started right after the second one, back in 2018 when she wrote an acoustic version “Dumb Driver”. The track has found a new life here on Disappear with a more blustering sound, and it’s more fun than the original as a result. Then there’s the soaring and powerfully emotive “Sing Till I Cry”, which finds our heroine at her most vulnerable, as Medford’s contemplative lyrics are transmitted through playful fuzz: “I broke the promise I knew I’d never keep / I wanted to tell you, I wanted you to see.”
It’s quite fascinating to hear an artist like Medford really taking control of her voice thanks to the cyclical liberations she’s experienced these last five years. So when it comes to the album’s grandest moment on “Power”, it feels natural for her to admit: “I wanna feel the power of holding no one / No one ever again.” It’s the anthem that the independence movement needs right now, and Medford’s capable of leading it.
Show Me How You Disappear may not hit the highs of her previous work as far as aesthetically pleasing noise, but it is a clear step-up for Medford’s songwriting talents. This may not suit everyone’s fancy, but for Medford it seems she’s finally found her footing after making mistakes and learning lessons, not just about her career choices but also with whom she surrounds herself with – inside herself and out. The results speak for themselves, and Show Me How You Disappear makes us ask why Medford even needed the rest of the band in the first place.