Album Review: Jockstrap – Wicked City EP

[Warp; 2020]

Jockstrap are a pair of young Londoners, Georgia Ellery and Taylor Skye, whose 2018 debut EP Love is the Key to the City was an impressive display of genre-blending creativity and maturity well beyond their years. It was enough to earn them a record deal with Warp, putting them in a long lineage of duos on the storied experimental label, including Boards of Canada, Broadcast, Autechre and more. These are big names to follow in the wake of, but Jockstrap don’t seem too overwhelmed on Wicked City, the new five-track offering that’s their first for the imprint.

They launch into Wicked City with “Robert”, which immediately shows the growth in personality and confidence that they’ve built up since their debut. Whereas Key to the City’s tracks named in honour of characters, “Charlotte” and “Hayley”, showed a lot of empathy and tenderness for their subjects, “Robert” is brash and upfront: “You’re provoking me Robert / I want to be your playmate,” Ellery announces straight off the bat. This is combined with a complex tapestry of sounds, featuring rough drum loops and rusted spring noises, so perplexingly layered that even a feature from Injury Reserve is reduced to just another texture in the mix.

First single “Acid” is the closest they come to the previous EP, as they bring back the violins to twirl with Ellery’s vocal. They manage to maintain a romantic atmosphere even as she interjects this tale of coupling with paranoid thoughts like “But what if you were to kill me off or worse, yourself?” The undercurrent of “Acid” is filled with percolating and neon synths, which provide an unusual counterpoint for the more passionate melodies, creating an absorbing sound that is fast becoming the duo’s signature.

“Yellow in Green” is an almost entirely acoustic song, with Ellery singing plaintively over arpeggiating piano and little flourishes of violin. It’s the most simply beautiful on the EP, although it feels like a bit of an interlude between the maximalist mayhem of the other four tracks.

“The City” is the kind of song that you will either love or hate – and you might switch between the two on different days. It starts charmingly enough with simple piano-and-voice, but after two minutes Ellery’s voice suddenly gets pulled out into an unnatural, haunting breath, and the bananas second half is introduced with a caustic synth line and a sledgehammer bass thud. From here, Jockstrap pull us into a squelching nightmare wormhole where Ellery’s voice darts around in different tones, telling tales of monsters, beavers and bears while synth bass continues to rapidly bomb your eardrums.

Jockstrap put us back on terra firma with the closing “City Hell”, where we get a fairly straightforward song about feeling overwhelmed by bustling life in the metropolis, and a sway-along melody to go with it. “City Hell” is like Jockstrap writing a slow jam indie-R&B song, but with their proclivity for unusual tones, and it provides a satisfying send-off, featuring a wailing guitar solo and all.

The rapid tone-shifting throughout Wicked City is what makes it brilliant, but also quite exhausting – especially for a release that’s only 20 minutes long. While there is no way not to be impressed by the way Jockstrap have built these completely unpredictable songs, they also don’t allow any time to settle or get comfortable – although this is probably the duo’s intention. Wicked City proves that Jockstrap have no shortage of creativity, as these five tracks have more than enough ideas to fill a whole album. So, it’ll be fascinating to see how they do approach a full-length, which hopefully isn’t too far away.