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“I’m only 17,” Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth harmonize on the first verse of their excellent sophomore album as Let’s Eat Grandma, I’m All Ears. This line is already fading into the rearview, as the childhood friend duo are 19 upon the album’s release. But with the pair preparing to leave their teens, they’ll take much of their recording narrative with them. The songs from their debut album, 2016’s I, Gemini, were written at just 14, and in a sense we’re watching these talented Englishwomen grow up on record. Even on this declaration from “Hot Pink,” the plaintive, emotional expression is followed by a dramatic drop provided by producer Sophie. Not everyone’s teen years are encased like a carbonite Han Solo. Let’s Eat Grandma doesn’t flinch at both capturing their moment or letting it drift away.
The group is not the first entry into left-of-the-dial art pop to come from inspired teens, nor will it be the last. There is a sense when listening to Let’s Eat Grandma that they are traveling along the same road that Lorde walked just a few years earlier, and are leaping beyond the narrative in a similar manner to the New Zealand icon. When Lorde burst onto the scene in 2013, her age added fuel to her music, with people clearly enamored enough with her songwriting to send her to the top of the charts, but always with an air of “if she is this good at 16, we can’t wait to see what comes next.” The funny thing is that years later, Pure Heroine holds up as a chronicle of a young artist finding her voice, and also perfectly well without any narrative. Lorde’s greatness comes both because of, and in spite of, her age. Let’s Eat Grandma are in the same boat.
I’m All Ears isn’t as radio-ready as Pure Heroine, but it sounds akin to the more liberated moments of Melodrama spiked with Grimes’ tendency to bridge hooks with unexpected musical freakouts. It’s a giant leap from their debut, I, Gemini, which took its cues from another wunderkind — Bjork. On that album, the band’s willingness to experiment and an undeniable ear for a melody shine through over uneven production, and though it still sounds rough around the edges, it’s the kind of table-setting album that would be expected out of any young band. But even with all that potential shining through, I’m All Ears is surprising in both its mature decision making and youthful spirit.
The album’s opening sums up Let’s Eat Grandma’s strengths. It’s easy to focus on what Sophie and The Horrors’ Faris Badwan bring to the table on the production of “Hot Pink,” but it never feels like it gets out of the hands of Let’s Eat Grandma’s core. That’s often the key to collaboration, not losing yourself in the sounds of someone else, and “Hot Pink” feels like a marriage of ideas that suit the young women perfectly. The following song, though, “It’s Not Just Me,” is much more of a bedroom pop look that wouldn’t be totally out of place on Grimes’ Visions. It’s reigned in and controlled, full of elation and wonder, proving Let’s Eat Grandma can deftly deliver direct pop that doesn’t pander and lose sight of their aesthetic. These two tracks work as two sides of coin, showing range that few groups ever possess, particularly at such a young age.
I’m All Ears also seems to take a cue from its title. It’s a phrase that denotes being open to suggestions and ideas, and the collection feels appropriately malleable. There are instrumental interludes to segue between movements. “Snakes And Ladders” shows off an ability to connect with a moody ballad. And “Falling Into Me” finds the pair at their most unpredictable, fully experimenting within the pop realm without losing sight of the shore.
But maybe more intriguing is how the group closes the record. The last trio of songs features two tracks that arrive in the ten-minute-length range and are separated by the album’s most tender and bare endeavor, the piano weeper “Ava.” The album’s two long songs are both exercises that show Walton and Hollingworth holding their attention for abnormal lengths without ever drifting into excess. “Cool & Collected” uses up its first half in a prologue, with the meat of the number coming in the latter half’s instrumental majesty. It’s the kind of song that takes its time working to the payoff, but Let’s Eat Grandma knows that if you are going to make people travel a long road, you have to make the journey worth it.
The album closer, “Donnie Darko,” is something different entirely. Running more than eleven minutes, the song is a slowly percolating, late-night fog masterpiece. The pulsing synths sound like a disco that has followed you home, like a night out on the town that you just can’t shake. And when the pair appears for vocal thrusts, it’s with a newfound aggression that is never matched on the record. It’s just another trick in a full bag, and one that has little to do with either their age or experience.
In nearly every interview with the pair, they bemoan adults being surprised that great art can come from young people, but there is only a short list of musicians who appeared first as kids and went on to captivating careers, be it Conor Oberst or Justin Bieber. Maybe I’m All Ears is an argument for arming more young people with the tools they need to express themselves, or maybe it is just proof of something profoundly special happening when these two particular young people get in a room together. It doesn’t have to be either/or. If Let’s Eat Grandma is anything, it’s a defense of multiplicity.
I’m All Ears is out now on Transgressive Records. Get it here.