It’s immediately apparent from the atmospheric instrumental opener ‘Whitewater’, which features some quality distorted cello playing from Jenny, that Let’s Eat Grandma’s second record, I’m All Ears, is a significant step up from their debut, at least in production terms. That first record, I, Gemini, was written and recorded when Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth were precocious young teens: the two girls met when they were four and began making music together at 13. It was surprisingly cohesive, considering their youth, and their naive, unusual perspective turned up surprising depth and a unique sense of humour within pop. This follow-up strips away a lot of the musical idiosyncrasies, which, to some, will have come across as inconsistency, but to many were a massive part of the charm.
For example, there is nothing on this new album like the jerky drumming on ‘Sax In The City’, instead everything is slick and polished, and far more of what we hear has been processed through computers. That’s not to say there aren’t still moments when the girls’ sense of humour peeks through, but their musicality has matured, undeniably. While the last album was drawn from songs throughout their brief teen history to that point, this material was all written for the record, with the pair approaching the end of their teens, rather than exploring the beginning. Rather than being created in something of a bubble of their own making, the multi-instrumental duo have also opened their doors to a wide range of collaborators. I’m All Ears features contributions from producers SOPHIE (Charlie XCX ), David Wrench (The xx, Frank Ocean, Caribou), and Faris Badwan (from The Horrors).
It’s an impressive list of pedigree and one that speaks to the ambition behind this project, both from the band and the team built up around them. It’s recognition that great pop is not made by those who simply go through the motions and follow the trends. Although this is surely a modern, synth-pop album, which adheres to some of the expected tropes, it’s evident that Let’s Eat Grandma have lost very little of their creativity and originality through applying a bit of spit and polish, and working with a highly successful production team. We don’t remember the pop-by-numbers types as much as the pioneers, and this is a band who ought to be placed in a lineage alongside acts like David Bowie, Lady Gaga and Lorde. In fact, there’s something about their vocal delivery that reminds me particularly of Lorde, in modern pop. They sing in a way which takes on board the approach and over-articulation of American r’n’b and synth-pop, but they don’t sacrifice their British accents in the process. I suppose you could also throw Kate Bush into this comparison: they’ve done the work in finding a vocal approach which is extremely effective and performative, but at the same time uniquely theirs and instantly recognisable.
I’m All Ears is front-loaded with pop bangers, the three singles ‘Hot Pink’, ‘It’s Not Just Me’ and ‘Falling Into Me’ run back-to-back. While the back half is dominated by two particularly epic tracks: ‘Cool & Collected’ and ‘Donnie Darko’ are both around ten minutes in length and show a desire to drag out arrangements to epic, almost prog-rock proportions. Yet, whether they’re extending songs, showcasing their diverse musical ideas and skills, creating little humorous interludes like ‘The Cat’s Pyjamas’, with its sampled cat purrs, or showing off great taste, in keeping ‘Ava’ as a stripped piano and vocal ballad, the sound and scope of what they achieve here is always compelling. They certainly know their way around a tune and have picked up some fantastically clever arrangement ideas along the way. My favourite moment on the album comes two thirds of the way through the track ‘I Will Be Waiting’, where the tension which has built throughout the song so far is finally released, and we get the hooky chorus that most acts would have hit you with within 30 seconds. Let’s Eat Grandma have clearly levelled up, to the extent it’s sometimes hard to believe this is only the second album. It points to the potential for a long and exciting career in music.