by Maria Sledmere
Two Ribbons is beautiful exercise in letting go – even just a little
Listening to Let’s Eat Grandma, you enter the sonic aporia of fairy tale dialled up to the nines — whether that’s the postmodern fantasy of Donnie Darko, or the swishy, shiitake psychedelia of their debut, I, Gemini. On their latest, Two Ribbons, which follows 2018’s much-acclaimed, I’m All Ears, we find ourselves entangled in the story of two women figuring out boundaries, desires, memory and experience – together and apart. It’s a comparatively sober record, but one no less touched by the Rosa Walton/Jenny Hollingworth magic.
Opener, Happy New Year, is a euphoric ode to friendship, complete with actual fireworks and that big, irresistible synthy energy the pair have made their own. To listen after two years in and out of lockdown is to remember your favourite drunk-clung moments with friends and feel infinite in the love you share. At this stage, the scales of our night life are distorted enough so that a night in your room with the right tunes, rapidly texting, is just as crisp in memory as one on the tiles. Happy New Year sounds great through Bluetooth speakers and begs to be lip-synced to your pal through rosy wee hours of FaceTime, but it also has that irreplaceable breathlessness belonging to the IRL. In the video, Walton and Hollingworth embrace after a playfully dramatic tennis match and proceed to smash their rackets in the zany overlay of sparklers and lens flares. It’s a cool and satisfying allegory for making your own chaos and harmony in and out of the pressure of spotlights. That tennis net could also be a screen; something to play across, something to fall through, fail at and learn from. Something to filter.
A bit like Lorde’s Melodrama, Two Ribbons begins high octane and proceeds to pick up the pieces with reflection and distance — which isn’t to say time is linear here. It’s more…swirly. On Levitation, ‘Everything feels so amazing / When our bodies float like levitation’ and huge wooah-oh-oh-yeahs keep us in pop’s angel wings as summer, ‘Catastrophic Saturday’ and ‘Shooting stars’ explode entropically around us. It’s like Walton and Hollingworth are singing to someone far away, coming in and out of each other’s orbit. For the rest of the album, the details of intense relationships are explored with intensity and yearning. It’s the kind of soul-searching that might be otherwise expected on a band’s third album; but given the era of social distancing we’ve been through, this introspection is all the more essential. Comforting, but not compensatory: you can tell a lot of genuine emotional work is plaiting itself through these perceptive songs.
I want to say the production (a collaboration between the band and David Wrench, the primary producer of I’m All Ears) is cinematic, but actually it’s more akin to the virtual traversal of a game’s cutscene, or the softer intervals of science fiction. You feel immersed. Lyrics about picturesque ‘Norfolk bays’ are elevated by epic atmospherics on tracks like Insect Loop. They can sing about handheld moonbeams and make it sound effortless and everyday as cooking or kissing. With twinkling synths, amplified vocals, jazzy interludes and electric guitar solos, this is progressive pop with fractal intention. The long-term influence of the late, great producer, SOPHIE (who also worked with them on tracks from I’m All Ears) is manifest here in songs like Hall of Mirrors, which takes us through wormholes of saxophone and thrumming electronica. But where SOPHIE carves anarchic and metallic, extrovert sounds on the band’s sophomore record, here that aesthetic is pared down through a mellower atmosphere. There’s more space to breathe.
Intrepid tales of pain, memory and disclosure weave, tug and release through pleasing melodies, jarring instrumentation and lovely pop inflections. The overall effect is heady and tender, lurid and brilliant like a Dana Ward poem or Katherine Bernhardt painting (hot pink!). Expansive, complex but also hooky and charming. It’s not exactly the afterlife of the party, Lorde-style, because there is something dreamlike and enduring about these songs. Instrumental, In The Cemetery, combines a looping riff with crystalline nature sounds – a portal into the stripped back acoustics of Strange Conversation. Sometimes you need that ruminative interlude, like Lana Del Rey lowkey making T. S. Eliot’s words her own in the sultry middle of Honeymoon. With its tales of quiet, doves and ‘mottled sky’, Strange Conversation sets the scene for a kind of confession and reawakening following vulnerable talks: ‘And I am at the altar / And I awake in pools of light’. There’s always been a more-than-human quality to Let’s Eat Grandma’s universe, bringing in the ecstasy of something machinic but also fleshy and vulnerable, sometimes beyond meaning as we know it (the bubblegum burst of abstraction on Hot Pink, or the pared-back oceanic lap of Deep Six Textbook). The vocals here have a nuance and maturity beyond the ethereal delivery of earlier work.
In an era of disconnection and alienation, here’s something unabashedly wholesome: a record of love and loss, relation and identity, that nonetheless shores up the complexities of sharing our inner lives with others. It’s an enriching alternative to the rehash of nostalgia the pandemic brought upon many of us. ‘I miss you even though you’re right here’ shows the heart wrench of change in proximity. We’re in monochrome close to the running waters remembered from girlhood; but there’s also a grandeur to that – a bittersweet tinge of gothic. It’s less extravagant, less camp, on this album; a different flavour of sincerity. The first time I listened to their music, I was in my early twenties, wearing an oversized starfish pin in my long red hair, dozing in my friend’s room of oil paint and resinous scents. Sometimes I want so hard to feel that again. Let’s Eat Grandma can incorporate the dreamscapes of memory into something more substantial and discerning. Intimacy is not all perfect: ‘We both held on so tight that we’re bruising up’. Two Ribbons is a beautiful exercise in letting go – even just a little. Two ribbons can be tied together, they can stream apart; they can also fray magnificently in a myriad of paths, lifelines, influences, talks. They catch the wind.