Album Review: Let’s Eat Grandma – I’m All Ears

There may be some befuddled brows and chin-stroking music fans who are immune and unaware of the wonder of Let’s Eat Grandma. Their new album, I’m All Ears, shows a receptiveness from the Norfolk duo – its title takes on new meaning and depth the more you explore the record. Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth’s acclaimed I, Gemini stunned critics and was certainly different to anything on the scene that year. Now, a couple of years forward, new elements and grandeur come into their music. I’m All Ears is their most complete, wide-ranging and astonishing work to date – unapologetically fierce, bold and complete with loops, drum solos and sound taken from the 1980s. To even describe the album already leaves the head spinning and the mouth drooling, with production from David Wrench (The xx, Frank Ocean) and SOPHIE (a celebrated artist in her own right) – oh, and a certain Faris Badwan of The Horrors. It is a stellar production line that has years of experience and acclaim behind them. That is not to say Let’s Eat Grandma require hand-holding and strict lessons: their music has already flown the nest of the ingénue and seen the fledgling bird grow into its own creature, with red eyes and wings of gold.

Let's Eat Grandma - I'm All Ears artwork

That may be a rather disturbing image but, in the world of Let’s Eat Grandma, nothing is ordinary and modest – many might think a duo so young would produce rather safe and restrained music (no effing chance here, pal!). Look at the tracklisting and there is plenty to alarm and disarm the naïve ear. There are only nine tracks and, whilst that might seem like a limited locker, tracks vary in length from 1:56 (opener ‘Whitewater’) to the 11:19 finale (‘Donnie Darko’). There are short passages and brief tracks, long-playing extravaganzas and titles that inspire vivid imaginations (‘Hot Pink’ has been released as a single and is as odd and delightful as its name implies!).

Look at the roster at label Transgressive and you are not dealing with a middle school of overweight kids who need a few years of additional support: they are lean, A-type personalities whose approach to music is to break moulds, destroy envelopes and piss on boundaries. Let’s Eat Grandma positively vomit over convention and what one might expect – they’re primed for those who like things on the fringes. I listen to their music and it is beyond inventive and nuanced. No two songs sound alike and the duo is effortlessly pioneering and subversive.

I’m All Ears is a portrait of Walton and Hollingworth’s lives over the past two years as they have grown as musicians – they are exploring new territories: navigating friendships, romantic relationships, mental health and the ever-restless presence of technology. It draws on their love of PC Music, Frank Ocean, the record collections of their parents, ringtones, train journeys and vintage synths…

Opener ‘Whitewater’ is the sound of entering a phantasmagorical land where weirdness and serenity orgasm and entwine. There are juddering electronics and ethereal elements; there’s a glistening reflection and something urgent and machine-like. Notes interlock and strings rapture; animalistic electronic snarls rampage and the song gets heavier and hotter. This is one of the most immediate and arresting opening tracks you will hear all year.

‘Hot Pink’ follows and provides an extreme: a softer, more settled and familiar setting. Our heroine is only seventeen and doesn’t know what the word ‘hero’ means (a nice little retort to The Beatles’ opening line of ‘I Saw Her Standing There’); she knows there is duplicity and deceit afoot. The clear skies change to turbulence and bellicose as the chorus beats its chest with intensity. It is a perfect quiet-loud dynamic that keeps the nerves on edge and keeps the listener guessing. It seems there has been a particular argument that has compelled an internalised anger slowly rising to the surface. Switching between narrating and questioning to foot-stomping and outraged, it is clear the album is well and truly upon us.

‘It’s Not Just Me’ offers the same energy as its predecessors but starts life with a more optimistic composition – even if the lyrics paint images of instability and tension. The duo’s experimental and era-jumping talent sees flecks of the 1980s and 2000s melting and swimming with ease. Naivety and blame in relationships, once more, comes to play: we see two young lovers misguided and blaming one another, and it seems her partner is as much as fault as our heroine.

‘Falling Into Me’ and ‘Snakes & Ladders’ are both just shy of six-minutes and, whilst the work of Let’s Eat Grandma, it seems more accessible to those who are fans of modern-day electro-pop. Each of the songs throw in sonic hornets and peculiarity – the overall sound and texture are more accessible and dance-worthy then the opening tracks. Let’s Eat Grandma change the mood once more and keep the album fresh and changeable. After ‘Missed Call (1)’ – whose ‘ringtone’ seems to be balletic and a string-tiptoe tease – we get ‘I Will Be Waiting’, perhaps the best track on the album. The maturity, lyrical intelligence and passion through the track gets into the heart and shows Let’s Eat Grandma, even if only in their teens, can create songs well ahead of their years. The final few songs throw in odd purring and organ sounds (‘The Cat’s Pyjamas’) and two truly epic songs – ‘Cool & Collected’ (not too far short of ten minutes) and the aforementioned ‘Donnie Darko’.

The former is sweet-voiced and has incredible tenderness to start. The song, like Pink Floyd at their very best, moves through motions and seems like a romance-based odyssey. So many emotions, story changes and conversations come through. Similarly, ‘Donnie Darko’ travels through decades, genres and visions without drawing breath. Both tracks show Let’s Eat Grandma can sustain interest over a long period and tell a compelling tale. They, in essence, throw every sound and vision into the pot, leaving sludge and swamp to crawl amongst twinkling shine. It caps an immense and career-defining record that will be a hard achievement to follow. It may not settle in the mind the first time around – and will not convert every fan – but it is astonishing to see such confidence and ability from the pair. If this is what they are producing on their second album, who knows what their music will sound like in a few years? The album declares I’m All Ears. That is a declaration and sentiment that will be echoed by everyone who hears it.


Lead image: Charlotte Patmore