Cool Choices

Written by: TL on 26/09/2014 15:19:56

It takes a bit more mindful googling than usual to dig her up, but when you do it makes sense learning that the name S was chosen years before being googlable was a prerequisite for band names, back while the moniker was just a side-project for Seattle-based songwriter Jenn Ghetto, then of the indie band Carissa's Wierd, which has since disbanded in 2003. The name has already seen use on three full albums however, yet this year's "Cool Choices" is the first time Ghetto has moved the process out of her bedroom, enlisting a full band and reaching out to Death Cab For Cutie drummer Chris Walla to produce and help her take things a step up. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, "Cool Choices" has a similarly cooled and calm shade to its sound, as the one Death Cab got famous for particularly with "Plans", with the noteable difference of course being Ghetto's vocals. She sings with the type of soft, clear, indie-girl voice that fans of poppier music could compare to that of CHVRCHES' Lauren Mayberry or perhaps the Haim sisters, while punk lovers should have thoughts drifting towards Lemuria's Sheena Ozzella. Combine these things and the overall sound is not too far from that of Now, Now, only distinctly less electronic.

Regardless of comparisons though, it serves to take interest in "Cool Choices" simply because Ghetto's grasp of songwriting is a rather wonderful acquiantance to make, whether she bases things on piano; like in "Losers" or "Remember Love", or on guitars; like in "Vampires" or "Brunch", or toys with electronics on "Tell Me". It doesn't seem to matter which instrument she decides to built on, as the arrangements turn out equally well, with small and simple individual parts being placed carefully in the compositions, the strokes and strums setting the atmosphere with their own driving rhythms while the vocals draw you in from a comfortable position, often with a bit of dubbing on them to add an extra haunting quality.

Complementing the quality of the individual pieces is a fine streak of sequencing that takes you through most of the album. The patient start to "Losers" will make new listeners pause and make note of the self-depricating lyrics, before the song gently blooms with a simple elegance, only to vanish subtly when its movement has been made. It's a simple, yet impactful approach, which is transferred to the guitar-centric band setting on the two next songs, before the noodling acoustics of the interlude "(guitar solo)" leads one to thoughts of rain drops on window glass, growing momentum before running down quickly. The setup is perfect for the rhythmic low notes that rouse "White House", and while the song is good on its own, the effect is greater if you hear the two together.

It is only the lead-up to the album's heart however, which is found in "Brunch" and "Remember Love", both of which lend us clear insight into a breakup Ghetto went through prior to writing the album, and both of them are textbook examples of how you can actually make a subject more widely relatable by being more specific lyrically: Even if you didn't know Ghetto lived in Seattle, her dismay in "Brunch" when hearing about North Carolina still frames the feeling that it's a separate place and separate life from the one of the relationship. Along with the naked piano ballad of "Remember Love" - in which Ghetto hurts over the connection between the memory of a specific person and her idea of love life in general - the effect here is simply and quietly heartbreaking on a level everyone should relate to.

Capping a strong streak of eight solid songs with the dreamwave-ish curveball "Tell Me", "Cool Choices" regretably does take a bit of a dip in the four songs that carries it to its end. After "Tell Me" ends with the finality of the sound of a plane taking off, what's left and starts with the more resentful "Muffin" is a bit more earthbound. Arguably the slightly angrier sentiment here fits the healing process well, but musically the movements just aren't as striking, neither here or in the closing trio of "Balderdash", "Pacific" or "Let The Light In". Each song feels like it has an idea at its heart, but the resolutions don't take off the same way as those earlier on the record. That said, getting it right eight times in a row is quite a feat for any album, and the perceived drop towards the end is hardly steep enough to get you reaching to skip to the next album in your queue. "Cool Choices" is rather an album that lets its quiet brilliance shine from the start, and an example to look to, for how to write modest but impactful songs that expertly draw the listener towards relating to the emotions being sung about.


Download: Brunch, Remember Love, Losers, White House
For The Fans Of: Now, Now; Death Cab For Cutie; The Narrative; Carissa's Weird
Listen: facebook.com/jennghetto

Release date 22.09.2014
Hardly Art

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