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In Brine Hayley Scott , June 23rd, 2023 07:49

Leeds duo take experimental pop down to the very depths of the ocean, finds Hayley Scott

Jellyskin’s debut album In Brine is an electro-experimental, futurist elegy for all things aquatic. Across nine tracks, it flits between glacial goth pop (‘Marmalade’) and abrasive techno (‘Bringer of Brine’), much like the variable nature of the ocean itself. Coastal imagery pervades, but not quite in the balmy, sunlit way you’d expect. Instead, it’s sullen blue-black and abyssal. Imagine, if you will, Broadcast doing a techno banger about a solitary whale and you’re halfway there.

Is it possible to write about an electronic act with retrofuturist leanings, without summoning the ghosts of Broadcast? Probably not, though it’s obvious that their eclectic influences, however glaringly discernible, feed into the songs instinctually, as opposed to being purely imitative. Like a millennial Chris and Cosey, it’s apparent that Leeds duo Will Ainsley and Zia Larty-Healy possess more than a penchant for Throbbing Gristle’s 20 Jazz Funk Greats, yet nothing about In Brine is on the nose.

The thematic framework of In Brine traverses conventional concepts as much as it embraces them. Most notably, the subject of ‘52 Blue’ is the infamous 52-hertz whale, the world’s loneliest whale that calls at an unusual frequency of 52 hertz, a frequency higher than that of other whale species. Here, Zia Larty-Healy conveys, with ice-cold detachment, isolation, loneliness and the acceptance of this fate. ‘Punnet’, the soporific album closer, takes the oceanic theme and runs with it, instilling it with a heavy dose of surfy exotica. Jellyskin are just as adept in wistful balladry as they are frenzied, electro freak outs: ‘Pulpy Mouth And Skin’ sounds emphatically genteel alongside gutsy opener ‘Lift (Come In)’ (ironically, this is the only track on the LP that bears any resemblance to Broadcast, specifically the Haha Sound era) “on the edge of the pier, cold and violent around here”, laments Lea-Hartly on the former.

Jellyskin’s melodic impulse dazzles throughout, but there are fleeting, forgivable, moments of indifference. ‘I Was The First Tetrapod’ would be a chart hit in a parallel universe, but ‘Chicken, Milk and Oranges’ treads a dangerous path towards mediocrity, though luckily not quite getting there.

Still, with its dense, layered production and multiple, nuanced elements such as field recordings, idiosyncratic drum sounds and off-kilter guitar flourishes, In Brine’s hybrid of trashy techno and synth-ridden krautrock is poppy yet unusual; danceable yet at times plaintive, and relentless in its pursuit of perfecting the art of the experimental pop song. An inspired debut, the nautical mysticism of In Brine elicits an exhilarating playfulness that’s at odds with the repetitive uniformity of much modern post-punk. By coalescing pop and experimental formulas through a decidedly contemporary lens, In Brine inhabits a strange, but brilliant, world of its own.