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Let’s Eat Grandma
Two Ribbons Austin Nguyen , April 6th, 2022 07:25

Let's Eat Grandma's latest may be less out there, but it's the songs that shine through, finds Austin Nguyen

The ethos of Let’s Eat Grandma’s last two albums has been straightforward yet compelling: Deconstruct pop to build it back better – and weirder. Synths are stretched to squirm, chime, shudder, and the duo’s songwriting can be equally disorienting, sparkling with a magical-realist finish. Rarely has pop sounded so prettily pummeling, as if Jenny Hollingworth and Rosa Walton could melt cosmos with their sounds, but with Two Ribbons, the pair find a wistful and almost unlikely sense of restraint.

As with their last album, the approach behind Two Ribbons is omnivorous, forming a vibrant kaleidoscope that fluidly twists between genres. ‘Watching You Go’ could’ve been beamed in from the 80s with its Moroder throb and doe-eyed sentimentality, climaxing into a piercing confession: “You make me feel as if I’m someone you could love.” Pivoting into the next decade is ‘Sunday’, its sun-dappled guitar strums channeling the lilting soft rock of Amplified Heart-era Everything But the Girl. Despite its more gentle touch, the album’s spirit remains restless, transmogrifying.

Which is why the duo haven’t completely let go of their signature zaniness, even with Two Ribbons’ less proggy foundation (only two tracks exceed the five-minute mark, and none over six). The recorder-like pings of ‘In The Cemetery’ ride the same haunted carousel as the end credits to Satoshi Kon’s Paranoia Agent, and ‘Hall of Mirrors’ creates a vortex out of synth delays, washing the mix out with psychedelic fuzz and yacht-rock sax croons. None of this is quite as freewheeling or strange as I’m All Ears. Most of Two Ribbons, in fact, feels more like an exercise in refining genre than breaking it apart: ‘Happy New Year’ might as well be a Carly Rae Jepsen outtake – synths big as a billboard and tinsel-bright – save for its bridge of firework whizzes.

The newfound simplicity in Hollingworth and Walton’s production, however, magnifies the impact of their songwriting, which is the most direct it’s ever been. 2018’s ‘Ava’ serves as a lyrical touchpoint – more so than, say, ‘Snakes & Ladders’ or ‘Hot Pink’. There are still flashes of the duo’s evocative fantasies. ‘Hall of Mirrors’, in particular, captures how illusory and surreal a fraying relationship can feel (“I’ve stepped into a movie scene / Where my secrets are written on the bathroom walls”).

But the vignettes that comprise most of Two Ribbons are unflinchingly grounded in reality, not floating off into fabulism. Title track ‘Two Ribbons’ fits into this mold rather obviously: an apologetic, acoustic-as-personal ballad that – albeit staid – feels tender, the duo’s voices quivering like dandelions in the wind. It’s ‘Insect Loop’, though, that balances Let’s Eat Grandma’s best qualities: the disarmingly earnest and the vibrantly mischievious. Over cresting waves of indie-surf scuzz, Hollingworth and Walton try to restore their grief-stricken friendship (a pivotal factor in the album’s conception, as mentioned in interviews ), but in their own witchy ways: “We'll haunt these Norfolk bays / Weaving like the waves.” It’s the album’s most dynamic track, and perhaps its most revealing. Intimacy doesn’t have to be excoriating; it can be exuberant, too.