Nearly two years since Leeds-based Adult Jazz released their debut record Gist Is – a bold amalgam of poetic experimentalism on gender identity and Guildford-residing dogs among other linguistic minutiae – comes a follow-up mini album. Fulfilling a dream of the seemingly impossible, Earrings Off! is more experimental yet: four, as it is, “song” songs standing side-by side with three, as it were, discordant instrumental interludes. Where Gist Is was – in NPR’s terms – a search for the meaning of life, Earrings Off! is the realisation that there is one, and that we won’t find it should society’s quells of definition persist.
It’s all a little tough to get your head around. Opening with the title track, frontman Harry Burgess’s determined but floating vocals are both the primary source of instrumentation and a distressing frieze of the body and gender relations: “We make the boy a banner/ Heavy so he can carry/ Carry but he can’t look up/ And ever read the letters.” The ignorant march carries on and is observed by the band in their interlude (Cry For Time Off). Jarring strings come rhythmically – a March Of The Zapotec played precisely, to the droning beat and with the kind of control that comes from observation rather than subservience.
Eggshell is a highlight – no small part because of the accompanying and mesmeric animation by Sam Travis. It’s a display of mechanic masculinity; awkwardly synthetic grimaces sprawl across a bright white face, playing out a carefully free choreography as a simple extension of what initially seems liberating but manifests as painstakingly taught dance. The brass outro waves to David Byrne & St. Vincent’s Love This Giant while not taking great steps away from the intricacy of everyone’s favourite comparison to Dirty Projectors. It’s powerful and done well, not dissimilar from Tri Angle’s repertoire – see Haxan Cloak, Rabit – but less actively ethereal. Dissonant loops throughout “Eggshell” ring out the humdrum of formulating an identity, musing between “A boy with a bow or a girl without one,” before the plea: “Let’s talk/ Creature to creature.”
Some lyrics seem silly, but all are sombred by calls for coherence, time off, and home. The album is scattered with lyrical densities, all made denser still with strangely haunting and forced intervals. It’s easy to miss the point of Earrings Off! As a concept both musically and lyrically, it refuses to forgive the casual listener with classically enjoyable melodies, or the offhand Paul Simon reference of Gist Is. Ooh Ah Eh seemingly mourns the loss of gay spaces where the refrain cries “can’t go back to that bar.” Importantly, it doesn’t cry for pity but for frustration.
Last year could be considered the year where racial dialogues dominated the mass of music criticism, where end-of-year reviews donned their Kendrick crowns, and Kanye West announced his future presidential candidacy, among other things. If Earrings Off! is taken as seriously as it should be – and given the platform it deserves – then maybe this year will be the year to combat ANHONI’s criticisms of the industry’s disengaged moral showboating, and start really talking about identity politics.