Album Review: Jockstrap – I Love You Jennifer B

[Rough Trade; 2022]

To enjoy Jockstrap is to appreciate the flawless interconnection between two creative minds. Vocalist and lyricist Georgia Ellery is filled with countless characters, whims and desires, and undeniably feels deeply for each of the people she embodies. She couldn’t ask for a better production partner than Taylor Skye, who treats them with the same level of empathy, applying care to every sentence to ensure none of the emotion is lost. In each other they’ve found the perfect muse, and they audibly thrive on having no set expectation for what a Jockstrap song might sound like or where it will go. 

Listening back to their 2018 debut offering Love Is The Key To The City, it’s astounding how much of their signature dynamic is already in place, especially for a couple of people in their early 20s barely out of music school. The unexpected jolts between sounds, the tenderly explicit lyrics and the general sense of lovable awkwardness felt like precocity and youthful quirks that might get ironed out with time – now it’s evident that it was them laying down their idiosyncratic foundation on which they’ve continued to build. Revisiting 2020’s Wicked City – which came out on Warp – it’s now noticeable that they (self-consciously or not) leaned into the electronic weirdness a little further at the expense of some of the more human feeling that overflows from Ellery. On their debut album I Love You Jennifer B they’ve redressed that balance to spectacular results.

As suggested by its title, I Love You Jennifer B is a set of silent love letters beamed mentally from quivering souls in search of connection. They exist within the minds of Ellery’s characters, who live imaginary fantasies about finding freedom and validation within the arms of someone else. These reveries are often overwhelmed with romantic notions and, as they exist in the imagination, can morph in an instant from one atmosphere to another. Jockstrap have created a sound world that facilitates this, with boundless and powerful arrangements that can plumb untold depths and reach ecstatic highs – within the same song.

“Jennifer B” is an early display of the kind of emotional and sonic breadth that Jockstrap are able to conjure. Ellery sings of someone down on their luck, impoverished but yearning for physical connection, one minute offering to debase themselves by stripping for attention, the next showing childlike delight at being close enough to someone to appreciate the little white hairs on their body. Musically, they employ bhangra-like melodies intertwined with sweet violins and a rumbling groove – there is no judgement here, just someone’s honest passion being turned into delicious melody. 

Jockstrap maintain this wilful wondrousness throughout, bringing every dream to life. Over classic major chord pop sounds, “Greatest Hits” takes place inside the mind of someone who envisions the liberation they’ll feel when sexually activated – leading to a flight of fantasy where they become a lusted after star. The singer of “What’s It All About?” has a much humbler desire, to move from friendship into something more intimate, and Jockstrap honour this earnestness with a gorgeously lilting acoustic track adorned with strings that set off fireworks behind Ellery’s confessions of devotion. “Debra” seemingly positions Ellery as a woman of the night, the kind of person that men can go to to confide their grief and be offered a no-strings good time – and Jockstrap celebrate that with the most overtly banging dance track they’ve produced.

“Concrete Over Water” sits as the mid-album statement and is the ultimate example of just how amorphous Jockstrap’s music can be. We find Ellery’s character daydreaming across a lonesome cityscape of a former flame, blue synths painting a night skyline. As it turns out, this relationship perhaps didn’t end in the healthiest or happiest ways, but the narrator still finds guilty pleasure in reliving past glories together in Italy and Spain, the song shifting into a dazzling array of electronics and strings as the memories dance across her thoughts. “Concrete Over Water” shifts back and forth from this pained isolation to sparkling glories with a dynamic sweep, and along the way the song even boils down to what sounds like the original voice note recording of the song (when they sing “light and dark at once”). From there it builds back up again, giving us a glimpse into just how careful and concentrated a process they go through to transform Ellery’s initial skeletons into breathing, hurting and jubilant human lives.

The album’s blockbuster single “Glasgow” is the best advertisement for what Jockstrap offer. At its core it’s an arms-aloft singalong primed for the main stage at any music festival. It’s the kind of song that most bands would sell their left arm to write, but the duo are far from content to just let it be a simple crowd pleaser; Jockstrap want you to become engrossed in it, to invest yourself in the drama of their characters’ internal lives. They round out the subtle complexities in the seemingly simple story of longing; a tip-toeing toybox melody reflecting the delicacy of the situation, digital glitches suggesting the distance between them, sighs that relay the inner conflict. This precision features throughout Jennifer B, and it’s thanks to these careful touches that each song connects on a deeper level, despite their structurelessness and unpredictability. 

I Love You Jennifer B concludes with “50/50”, where Ellery’s character is desperate for someone to notice them – and when they get the attention they desire they suddenly don’t know what to do. Their indecision itches away under their skin and is amplified by Skye’s revved-up techno production. For once, Ellery’s character’s dream has come true and yet they’re frozen – what happens next, we don’t know. Jockstrap are masters of leaving us hanging, never letting their stories resolve in overly simplified happy endings. They always leave you wanting more – isn’t that what dreams are like, after all?