Album Review – Right On! / JennyLee

JennyLee_RightOn_packshotJennyLee’s main band, Warpaint, are more than likely about to take another four-year break between albums, but that was nothing compared to the lead-up from their formation (in 2004) right up until their debut, The Fool, in 2010. So in the meantime, Jenny Lee Lindberg has used that time to create an album with her influences and her style, instead of the group democracy. She’s always brought a Cure-likeness to her written songs and that’s even more evident in Right On!, where she lets that influence cast a dark Robert-Smith-shaped shadow across many of the songs here. It’s refreshing to her see input, which has been restricted to providing Warpaint’s amazing basslines and some of the songs on their albums, to a full extent. At the very least, it fills the Warpaint-sized-hole that might not be continued for a good time to come.

JennyLee surprises very often with providing the aggression that was hinted at with Warpaint on songs such as ‘I’ll Start Believing’ and ‘CC’ (which incidentally, Jenny Lee wrote), but it comes across in full force on ‘Riot’, which has more in commonly with Sexwitch’s debut from this year than anything Warpaint accomplished. The tribal drumming and guttural guitar is definitely influenced by the Cure, but Lindberg’s voice is what makes it different from her influences. On other songs, her voice might fade into the background, but her voice raises on ‘Riot’ as she repeats ‘It’s a riot’ over and over until the witch-goth peaks on the outro and Lindberg’s voice becomes a instrument more like her trademark bass or guitar. The bass has to be appreciated on Right On!, especially as Lindberg takes it out of the background and puts it on the same level as a guitar or vocals. It shines on Jenny’s more aggressive tracks, such as the early highlight ‘Boom Boom’, where it winds into a repetitive groove like it did on Warpaint’s dancier cuts. Though it might seem like a serious, post-punky record, at the heart of it there’s a record you can dance to, and that’s apparent on ‘Boom Boom’.

Unfortunately, there are some mid-tempo forgettable tracks lurking in the relatively short ten-track length. Lindberg masters the slow swayers like ‘He Fresh’ and the faster paced, more electric tracks such as ‘Riot’, but she loses some power in the middle ranging tracks. ‘Long Lonely Winter’, followed by ‘Bully’ have some good points, like the quirky Talking-Heads-like bassline on ‘Long Lonely Winter’ and the intense personal lyrics of ‘Bully’, where the title sums up the song very well. However, there’s very little instrumentally which sets them apart from the better songs on the album. They take a minimalist version on instruments, but where there is space nothing comes from it. It’s like the Cure’s aching atmospherics from their early material, but not delivered quite properly. Often, the promise of a good instrumental and vocal combination comes together at the end of the track, like on ‘Bully’, when the band begins to lock in. However, the song dies too quickly to save any impact from it. In that way, Jenny Lee’s songs could do well from some lengthening out, stretching into the jams her band do so well. There’s definitely the tempting idea of a Sexwitch-like psychedelic jam hidden in there somewhere, but a short-and-sweet impact is taken over anything longer.

Jenny Lee’s lyrics totally fit the kind of music that comes across on Right On! She finds a sweet spot between ambiguous imagery and personal lyrics. The imagery comes on songs like ‘White Devil’, where male backing vocals courtesy of Chris Byerly come and go, as does Lindberg’s vocal style, which jumps from short, direct yelps to slurred to shrieks. Then there’s tracks like ‘Bully’, where she sings ‘I’m gonna get her / I’m gonna turn her inside out’ and ‘You better run away / and get out of my face / I would if I were you / Ugly girl I feel sorry for you’ from the perspective of her bully. It’s sad, ugly and one of the most intimate things Lindberg has ever written. Sometimes Lindberg combines the imagery and the personal and it works just as well. ‘Boom Boom’ works for its simplicity, especially with just the way she sings ‘Boom Boom’ in the chorus, which could just be another throwaway lyrics, but she sings it so softly in comparison with the harsher verse of ‘Society is anxiety’ that it seems so innocent and pure.

A lot of band members embarking on solo or side-project journeys can come across as indulgent or simply not needed (see the EL-VY project of Matt Berninger and Brent Knopf), but Right On! makes perfect sense. Lindberg is a huge creative force in Warpaint, but needed a chance to put the whole of herself into a record instead of working as a team. She doesn’t go over the top on stylistic flourishes; she sticks to what she can do the best and expands on it. A lot of it is shadowy post-punk indebted to the Cure, but that’s never a bad thing. Lindberg could be taking influence from artists with a lot less of a genre spectrum, so she has plenty to scoop from. The other half is the dancey part of Warpaint, which Lindberg is obviously good at because she’s the rhythm part of that band and her bandmate Stella Mozgawa plays a lot of the drums on the record so it’s just as tight on that part. In total, it’s a moody, dark, excellent way to end the year.


Funnel Recommends: Boom Boom / Riot / He Fresh