Monday, December 19th, 2016

Adult Jazz – Earrings Off!

For when you outgrow schoolhouse rock?


Brad Shoup: My first impression of the title was that this was going to be about fighting, and it sort of is. The narrator’s brother punches off earrings — is he internalizing some gendered lesson, or inflicting it on someone else? As the drumtrack patters, Harry Burgess sings about gender expectations with an anthropologist’s enthusiam, but also the shiver of relived horror. The album reviews homed on the Dirty Projectors — the way Burgess’s voice traverses the stave like a gibbon, probably — but within the background huffs and the way the topline keeps cooing, I hear Animal Collective. “Earrings Off!” is the emotional labor — the care and intent and freedom — that produces the naked-baby reveries of Panda Bear and friends.

Olivia Rafferty: A cautious and playful vocal over a weaving of noise that ebbs and flows. Throughout the song the vocal remains dominant, and at the point where the climactic chorus comes, pulsing and bashing against your ears, the voice becomes even more free and poetic, running through a series of images and a story in a way that structures the rhythm more towards the word-setting rather than a melody. However its best moments lie in the beginning of the break: that moment where the quiet begins to rush into the all-consuming chorus.

A.J. Cohn: For ostensibly experimental rock, this lacks a particularly original sound: comparisons to Dirty Projectors’ work seem obvious. Fortunately, Burgess’s lyrics, in their exploration of the ways in which normative masculinity is enforced and resisted, feel inventive and fresh.

Ramzi Awn: The production on “Earrings Off!” is full of new buzzsounds and combinations that won’t leave you wanting for more, but I’m happy with that. And there’s something about the vocals that’s hard to argue with — the sort of abandon heard in Freddie Mercury’s voice or on the title track to Kate Bush’s eponymous Hounds of Love.  

Tim de Reuse: This song is unapologetically awkward. A tinny guitar line plays a warm-up exercise in parallel octaves. The percussion section is mixed uncannily sharp, like it’s trying to punch through instrumentation that isn’t there. The chorus builds in chords of grainy resampled breath and digitally distorted kick drums on every downbeat. This is still pop music, though; the underlying verse/chorus structure and the harmonic content are hardly avant-garde. The melodies that (Adult Jazz frontman) Harry Burgess claws through are all perfectly tonal and surprisingly catchy — they’re just belted out with intonation that is wrong, wrong, wrong. His lyrics revolve around the ideal of the capital-M Male in all its slimy, unobtainable glory, evoking muscly 1940s archetypes, judgmental barbers, and babies assigned mannerisms from birth (the artist-annotated Genius page is worth a glance). Burgess recalls, feverishly, an incident wherein his brother violently rejected an implication of femininity: “I should’ve known it when/My brother punched and kicked his earrings off/Stifled the magpie and has not gone near jewelry seriously since then.” This particular tone — the twist-in-your-gut wrongness paired with a can’t-sit-still major-keyed avalanche — is what fascinates me, and it is why I have had this song on repeat for so long. I cannot think of any other artist that has evoked with such razor-sharp accuracy the nauseating anxious pressures that learned masculinity loves to exert on those who try to walk away from it. You can’t excise the parts of your conception of self that you’ve grown uncomfortable with in any graceful way; there is hesitation and gnashing of teeth in the act. “Earrings Off!,” through all its weird, desperate wrongness, communicates not just the frustration and confusion and dread of this process but a bull-headed resolve. The finale, in fact, is oddly triumphant. Burgess’s howling pulls at its restraints in a way that is distinctly self-affirming, wondering on the fate of a hypothetical child born outside precepts of gender, “slid easy through an edgeless tube,” framing alien, clinical imagery as a hopeful future. It fits with the song’s internal logic, I think. I am uncomfortable with a lot of things — body, self-image, et cetera — and the thought of wearing earrings sets off weird alarms in my head that I swear I didn’t put there. Against such tangled baggage this song feels almost grounded, like a hand on the shoulder; I greatly appreciate the commiseration, and I definitely needed the “hey, maybe someday!”

Edward Okulicz: I have a profoundly negative visceral reaction to this song, like it makes me feel a little bit nauseated. And in the last minute, that’s quite a bit nauseated. I think the lyrics might be a bit interesting, and the melody worthy, but it doesn’t go with the instrumentation, the flow of the words actively works against the grain of the beat and the whole thing is just a busy, ugly mess.

Juana Giaimo: The mechanical noises as well as the robotized vocals make “Earrings Off!” a cold song which reflects the estrangement of the lyrics towards gender conventions. But it suddenly gets out of control with those last and rather unbearable yells, as if the machine was suddenly broken — as if society was suddenly broken. It is indeed an interesting idea, but I wish I could hear certain tenderness — especially since the lyrics are so personal — instead of just discomfort. 

Jonathan Bradley: The oblique sonics and abstract introspection of the lyric reminds me of the moments emo intersected with post-rock (Joan of Arc, for instance), but Adult Jazz’s discordant blurts have little interest in those tunes’ small instances of beauty that color the chaos. Harry Burgess’s reedy, wavering bleat quickly erodes the goodwill necessary for this song’s slow-to-be-revealed charms to manifest, like a skipping glitch-hop rhythm track and a synth pulse that draws inspiration from Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman.” But for all its architecture, there doesn’t appear to be much within the Pompidou Centre that is “Earrings Off!” Burgess finds hints of nostalgia and loss in the chorus when he sings, “He called me tiger, and he ruffled me for sport,” but that haircut is not a story of which we’re curious to hear any more. Apparently this record is about masculinity; certainly it is guardedly technical and emotionally abstruse.

Alfred Soto: There’s a good song behind the bass drum and Ubu-esque synth distortions, but the vocal confuses hysteria with formal play. Plus, it sounds an awful lot like Animal Collective.

Reader average: [9.66] (3 votes)

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