One band with an already-guaranteed place on my 2018 top album and gig lists is Let’s Eat Grandma. At Primavera they hypnotised with their surreal live tactics – handclapping games, falling on the floor, nonstop instrument swaps. Since that gig, their latest album I’m All Ears has been a day-to-day staple: it gives something new with every listen. It’s also quickly become one of the benchmarks I measure myself against when creating something of my own.
In case they’re new to you, Let’s Eat Grandma are two girls, Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth, aged 18 and 19. But leave any preconceptions triggered by that fact at the door – the music is the place to focus. Here are five angles to think about it from.
1. Shake up your structures
Much of I’m All Ears can be fairly categorised as pop (‘sludge pop’ as Rosa and Jenny specifically put it), yet the album proves that there’s no need for a conventional verse-chorus approach to the genre. Pop thrives on subversive structures. The opening three chords of ‘Falling Into Me’ could easily become a repeated motif after the first verse. Instead it is left behind, and I can count at least three fundamental shifts in pace, harmony and mood from start to finish. It’s enthralling, it works, and it’s worthy of imitation.
2. Un-dilute your emotions; embrace drama
The lyrical content of I’m All Ears is melodramatic in the best possible way. It’s about direct storytelling, vivid images, bold turns of phrase where the outside world and the inner self collide. Sometimes it’s the cryptic conceits that you find yourself turning over for days (When we were like night bloom violets / Our handprints pressed to my window – ‘Falling Into Me’); other times it’s the simple, raw phrases that leave nowhere to hide (‘I’m just obsessed with you, I’m always such a mess with you’ – ‘Cool And Collected’). During the lyric-writing process it’s easy to dress up ideas and emotions until they lose their impact. Let’s Eat Grandma show a much more positive process, where the most exposing statements remain unfiltered, and poetic beauty is very deliberately crafted where it suits.
3. Pick up any instrument
Although generally heavy on synth and electronics, some of the album’s most breathtaking moments come when Rosa and Jenny pick up something different – whether that’s the mischievous string interlude that is ‘Missed Call (1)’, the bare, vulnerable guitar of the ‘Donnie Darko’, or the soaring saxophone towards the end of ‘Falling into me’. It’s taken me a long time to shake the idea that learning an instrument is a long process, necessarily involving a tutor, a textbook, scales and drills. Of course, some kind of discipline is important, but fearlessness in trying something new and incorporating it into your music from day one can yield awesome results.
4. Actively think about vocal effects
For the vocals on this album, it’s much more than adding a bit of reverb and that’s that. Let’s Eat Grandma treat their voices as instruments, in the sense that they carefully consider the quality of the vocal sound in relation to the overall texture and mood of the song. Sometimes a completely natural sound is still what fits – as in the sensitive, quiet ‘Ava’. ‘Hot Pink”s synthetic style demands a much tinnier, compressed sound, warmth squeezed out. In the angry, epic ‘Snakes and Ladders’, the duo switch from muted chorus cries to much clearer, front-of-stage vocals for the bitter intensity of the verses. It’s great practice to always keep in mind how vocals can be manipulated in the same way you might apply an effects pedal to guitar or a filter to a synth.
5. Different but the same: Genre-hop whilst retaining your musical identity
It’s impossible to pin down I’m All Ears with a single musical descriptor. Wikipedia has made an attempt with ‘Art-pop’, but that fails to capture the numerous nods to musical movements from past and present. With ‘Cool and collected’ and ‘Donnie Darko’ we have ten-minute pieces of progressive brilliance; with ‘Ava’ a traditional piano ballad; with ‘Hot Pink’ some bang-on-trend stop-start electronic nastiness. It all holds together though – perhaps thanks to the shared urgency and fearlessness across all the tracks. As you’re starting out and looking for ‘your sound’, you might end up with songs which are at genre-odds with each other. I’m All Ears should spur you on to explore the common threads, rather than quash one direction in favour of another.