Love Hate (Barely Dressed)
As the business cliché has it, this third album from Jess Ribeiro is public facing. Prince Phillip might even call it outward bound. The result is that the people who have resisted playing her, or hearing her, will have fewer excuses after this.
Lest that sound like Ribeiro has flicked the switch to vaudeville/big hook pop, Love Hate mostly keeps the low, murmuring vocals and intense focus of its predecessors, and structurally the songs remain in the slowly opening/melodically restrained world of indie rock.
But with co-producer Ben Edwards, whose run of quality includes Aldous Harding, Julia Jacklin and Marlon Williams, guitars are given elevation, the rhythm section swings more forcefully, and electronics/synths stake a prominent position in some tracks. All while the sound feels fat-free as essentially a three-piece band.
The kick along comes in songs such as Stranger, Chair Stare and Love Is The Score Of Nothing, which fair throb with a kind of coiled energy that’s equal parts desire and momentum. Along with the album’s ultra brief closing track, Crawling Back To You, Love Is The Score Of Nothing comes out of hiding as a genuine pop turn possibly cast off from The Velvet Underground’s sweet-centred Loaded.
They are all songs that pull at your attention, taking you into their orbit, and that’s particularly so with Stranger, the scene-setting opening track, which is a seamless blend of Belly and Television: movement at the hips, mechanical rhythm locking you in, guitar dancing on the lay line, and a voice that is lying back on the beat, never succumbing to diffidence, rather retaining a fair bit of heat.
When Chair Stare takes the rhythmic vamp a bit higher, pushing through that rigid beat and the one finger keyboard stab, to reach something more like post-punk than ‘70s So-Ho, Love Hate begins to look like it will settle into a rock universe.
However, Ribeiro is not that simply defined. Young Love fogs up its sound, feeling like the electro/smack bands of Melbourne’s early ‘80s as it slows, curls and begins to crackle at the edges. Goodbye Heart adds more edge to this package, the repeated rhythm now in the agitated strings rather than the drums, which instead rumble against the febrile bass.
And Dylan is The Cure crossed with Throwing Muses, with some of that alluring uneasiness that Kristin Hersh specialised in – a dose repeated, with more Cure in that bleak house balance, in Lay Down With The Earth nearer the end of the record.
It turns out that Stranger is indeed scene-setting, but for its lyrical rather than strictly speaking its musical direction. This is where the album’s walk back and forth from desire and disgust, as it chronicles relationships’ multiple shapes, breaks and reformations - and the way it can eat at your being in both its benign and cancerous forms - begins.
Ribeiro moves from heated loins calling “You’re burning laps through my mind/I can’t steer, this is dangerous” to a besotted mind declaring “I’m not ashamed to be in love/Do you feel the same?”. But also from a high “We should claw like animals/You know what I like to do” to a crushed “goodbye heart, you’ve left a hole/There’s blood everywhere, I’m crawling on the floor”.
She traverses the short distances from a resigned “When the sun goes down, take my armour and shield/The night is a battle/ Loneliness, it’s real”, to a self-sickened, post-breakup sex splurge of “Love is the score of nothing/Yet we play it again and again and again”. And then, almost immediately - post-coitally, insensibly – “Afterwards we’d go inside and take a shower together/Change our clothes then walk the streets/ holding hands in front of everybody”.
It’s telling that the album doesn’t end with the relatively soothing Lay Down With The Earth (“lay down with the earth … feel it talk to you”), which may offer comfort, but with Crawling Back To You which has the shape of an early ‘60s pop song but the revenge/twisted lust worthy of a Killing Eve moment.
After all, Love Hate contains all those contradictions – playing both Villanelle and Eve.